Ontario’s chief coroner to probe fire-related deaths in Indigenous communities

Ontario’s chief coroner is setting up a panel of experts that will look at dozens of residential fires in Indigenous communities that have killed nearly 60 people in just over a decade.

Dr. Dirk Huyer says the panel — called the chief coroner’s table — will include coroners, forensic pathologists, fire investigators and members of Ontario’s Indigenous communities.

“We know there is a disproportionate number of fire deaths occurring in Indigenous communities relative to non-Indigenous communities and we really want to understand what we can about it,” Huyer said in an interview.

“This (table) is really drilling down deeply into each of the deaths … to look for systemic issues, trends or patterns.”

Huyer said 58 people died in 34 house fires in Indigenous communities between 2007 and 2016 — numbers for 2017 are not yet available.

The rate of fire-related deaths in Indigenous communities is more than 10 times higher than in the rest of the country, according to the federal government’s First Nations Fire Protection Strategy for 2010-2015.

Huyer’s fact-finding mission follows repeated requests for a coroner’s inquest into fire safety.

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