Parents of children who died in fire sue Cross Lake band in Manitoba

The parents of three children who died in a house fire in February 2022 are suing their band saying they had a responsibility to provide safe housing to its members.

According to a statement of claim filed on Jan. 4 by Melodie and Patrick North, the house the band provided the family didn’t meet any fire codes.

The claim says due to a housing shortage, the family was provided with what was called temporary covid shelter. None of the family was infected with the COVID-19 virus at the time the claim says.

“You’re living in third-world conditions here,” says Martin Pollock, the lawyer for the parents. “They’ve suffered tremendous trauma. It requires counselling. There’s a loss of earning capacity here for the father, devastation of loss is so wide.”

The statement of claim says on Feb. 12, 2022, six people, three children who died, the parents and a grandchild, were sleeping in the “Covid structure.”

At approximately 4:30 a.m., they woke up to “smoke and fire.” According to the claim, the flames blocked the single exit from the house. The only window in the structure was frozen shut. The claim says the window smashed to provide an escape. Melodie escaped with her granddaughter and ran to a neighbouring house where the fire hall was called.

“Because of the smoke and flames inside the Covid structure, and having remained in the Covid structure until forced to crawl through the broken window space, Patrick was unable to rescue Kobie, Jade and Reed,” says the claim.

The court document says that approximately 30 minutes after the fire hall was called, “CLFN firefighters attended the fire without water or retardant equipment to suppress the blaze.”

The house was destroyed by fire and Kobie, 17, Jade, 13, and Reed, 2 perished.

According to the statement of claim, the band is being sued for several issues including  “Housing the plaintiffs and the deceased children in unsafe premises; Failing to equip the Covid structure with fireproof or fire retardant housing materials; Failing to provide any or any adequate windows for egress in case of emergency; Failing to provide any or any adequate doors for escape from fire; Failing to provide any or any adequate windows for escape from fire,” and “failing to act with diligence, prudence, and reasonable care in response to notification of a fire on Reserve.”

Pollock says the lawsuit is meant to hold Cross Lake First Nation accountable.

“The question is how are we going to address it so it doesn’t happen again to other families?” he said.

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Statistics Canada data shows people living on First Nations are ten times more likely to die in a fire compared to other Canadians.

Arnold Lazare with the Indigenous Fire Marshal Services says overcrowding and improper infrastructure is a recipe for disaster.

He says his organization is working on getting smoke detectors and fire extinguishers into remote homes.

“If we can get the people that have the resources to invest in the community then it works,” he says.

It’s not clear if Cross Lake has adopted any building codes for its structures.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

APTN News contacted Cross Lake First Nation for a comment but didn’t hear back. A statement of defence hasn’t been filed.

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