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As northern Ont. community mourns death of young girl, calls grow to ensure fire protection

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A GoFundMe campaign to help a family in the remote community of Peawanuck, Ont., has surpassed $37,000 as calls for action grow to ensure the community has fire protection.

The Wabano family is dealing not only with the death of their young daughter, but the loss of everything they owned in a Jan. 28 house fire.

Ten people lived in the family home. JC, the couple’s 10-year-old daughter, was killed in the fire.

Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus said in the House of Commons last week that he alerted Indigenous Services Canada in February 2021 that Peawanuck, also known as Weenusk First Nation, lacked fire services.

"In 2021, I wrote to this minister warning about the lack of fire protection,” Angus said.

"That warning was ignored and now a child is dead. It is unconscionable that any community in this country is left without basic fire protection. So to the minister simple question, will she stand today and promise to commit to build a fire hall and give the in my emergency resource support for the people of Peawanuk, so they can live in safety?”

In response, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) sent CTV a statement outlining steps that have been taken in the community related to fire services.

“On Jan. 24, 2022, Indigenous Services Canada approved funding of $506,640 for a new fire truck for Weenusk First Nation,” the statement said.

“The fire truck is expected to be delivered in March 2023. As Weenusk is leading the procurement of the fire truck, with funding from Indigenous Services Canada, the community is best placed to respond to questions about the truck’s delivery status.”

ISC said it also provides $10,447 annually for the recruitment and training of volunteer firefighters, paid $25,000 for the repair of three fire hydrants in 2021-2022 and provided $18,420 to purchase personal protective equipment for the fire hall during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of the fire hall project, ISC said the community uses a fire storage facility as a fire hall.

“On behalf of the community, Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) is working with ISC to obtain funding and approval to design and build a new fire hall,” the statement said.

“Since March 2022, ISC has met multiple times with the community and its representatives and has remained in consistent contact over email, to advance this project.”

On Nov. 28, 2022, Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation submitted a draft project approval request for a new fire hall to ISC, which is currently being reviewed, the ISC said.

“ISC officials will continue to work with the team to finalize the project approval request and assist with identifying a funding source,” the statement said.

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