APTN National News
OTTAWA — Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt blamed Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation for not having the ability to fight a fire Tuesday that killed two children.
Facing questions from two NDP MPs during question period, Valcourt said his department had given the band enough money to deal with fire services on the Saskatchewan reserve.
“This particular band has received consistent funding for fire protection services,” said Valcourt. “And the fact of the matter is that each band council is responsible for fire protection on the reserve… That First Nation, like others, received sufficient funds to deal with fire safety.”
NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Niki Ashton said Valcourt was shirking his responsibility.
“First Nations and Canadians across the country have been moved by this tragedy,” said Ashton. “Instead of stepping up, the minister chooses to blame everyone else.”
Cree NDP MP Romeo Saganash also criticized Valcourt for the failures of his department when it comes to providing resources for fire safety on reserves.
“Those living on reserves have a 10 times greater chance of dying from a fire,” said Saganash. “Does (Valcourt) find it acceptable that while adults are fighting over a bill children are dying in fire in 2015?”
Valcourt said the department was providing adequate funds.
Local RCMP officers were the first responders at the scene of the fire and they saw 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.
The Loon Lake volunteer fire department did not respond to the fire because the band council was three months behind on its fire bill.
Loon Lake’s fire chief said he received an automated call about the fire Tuesday morning, but didn’t respond because of the unpaid bill led to the cancellation of the contract.
Makwa Sahgaiehcan Chief Richard Ben said he thought the band was paying for firefighting. The band also has a fire truck but it doesn’t run.
Kent Stewart, Chief Coroner for Saskatchewan, said investigators from his office were also investigating the fire to eventually determine whether a public inquest is warranted.
Stewart said he would release a public report on the outcome of their investigation if his office does not call an inquest.
“Our big focus is prevention,” said Stewart. “I will sit down and go over the investigation’s information and make decisions on how to move forward and it may or may not involve an inquest.”
Stewart said it could take six months for his office to make a determination.