APTN National News
The Loon Lake volunteer fire department did not respond to a deadly house fire Tuesday on a neighbouring First Nation because the band council was three months behind on its fire bill, according to documents obtained by APTN National News.
Loon Lake’s fire chief said he received an automated call about the fire Tuesday morning, but didn’t respond because the band had allegedly cancelled their contract with the Loon Lake municipality.
Makwa Sahgaiehcan Chief Richard Ben said he thought the band was paying for firefighting.
Local RCMP officers were the first responders at the scene of the fire on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation which left two young children dead.
RCMP officers watched the children’s biological father bring his two-year-old boy and 18-month-old daughter out of the burning home. The two children were pronounced dead at the scene and their grandmother, who was also in the house, was taken to hospital, treated and later released.
Documents obtained by APTN National News show the First Nation had a fee-for-service arrangement with the Loon Lake volunteer fire department. The fire department did not respond to the fire because the band was three months behind on their fire bill, according to a letter sent to the band by the Village of Loon Lake. The band was sent the letter on Jan. 30 and it was written by the village administrator.
“The band is now well over three months behind on payments for their fire bills,” said the letter from village administrator Laurie Lehoux, who is also the fire department’s bookkeeper. “The Loon Lake Fire Department will not be responding to any fires on the First Nations until this account is paid in full.”
The band had entered into a fee-for-service agreement with Loon Lake on Jan. 24, 2013. A clause in the agreement stated that the band wouldn’t receive fire services if it failed to pay its fire bills within 30 days.
The band cancelled its retainer agreement for services with Loon Lake in October 2012.
The tragedy hit the floor of the House of Commons Wednesday during question period. NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Niki Ashton asked Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt why people on reserves were 10 times more likely to die in a fire than in other communities.
“How could this happen?” said Ashton.
Valcourt accused Ashton of trying to “score political points from the death of children.” Valcourt said his department was funding fire safety “education and awareness” on reserves.
-with files from The Canadian Press