Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Aboriginal Peoples

Issue 3 - Evidence - February 12, 2014


OTTAWA, Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:45 p.m. to examine and report on the federal government's constitutional, treaty, political and legal responsibilities to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, and on other matters generally relating to the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada.

Senator Dennis Glen Patterson (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples either here in the room or via CPAC or the Web.

I am Dennis Patterson from Nunavut, chair of the committee. Our mandate is to examine legislation and matters relating to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada generally. In order to understand the concerns of our constituents, we regularly invite witnesses who can educate us on topics that are currently of importance to us. These sessions are valuable in helping the committee decide what future studies it will undertake in order to best serve the Aboriginal community.

Most recently, we have been holding briefings where witnesses have provided general background information on the broad question of financing infrastructure on reserves, which could relate to capital projects, schools and housing, among other things. Lately, our focus has turned to housing, in particular.

This evening, we will hear from three organizations. I am happy to welcome them here. The Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada, founded in 1991, is an organization that groups regional First Nations fire protection associations from across the country. The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to reducing the loss of life and property from fire and advancing the science and technology of the fire and emergency service in Canada. The Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes of the National Research Council of Canada is responsible for developing and maintaining Canada's model construction and fire codes.

I would like to also mention that we will hold a brief in camera meeting at the end of this session to consider an order of reference to fine-tune our study on infrastructure.

Before proceeding to the testimony, I would like to go around the table and ask the members of the committee to introduce themselves.

Senator Moore: Good evening. My name is Wilfred Moore, a senator from Nova Scotia.

Senator Dyck: Good evening. I am Lillian Dyck, senator from Saskatchewan.

Senator Sibbeston: I am Nick Sibbeston, a senator for the Northwest Territories.

Senator Watt: Senator Watt, Nunavik.

Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas from Alberta.

Senator Beyak: Lynn Beyak, senator from Ontario.

Senator Wallace: John Wallace from New Brunswick.

The Chair: Please help me in welcoming our witnesses. From the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada, we have Arnold Lazare, Director; and Richard Kent, Secretary and Treasurer. Also at the table is John de Hooge, Fire Chief, Ottawa Fire Service, who represents the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Finally, we welcome representatives from the National Research Council Canada: Guy Gosselin, Director, Building Regulations, NRC Construction; and Philip Rizcallah, Manager, Canadian Codes Centre, NRC Construction.

I understand that the National Research Council Canada will present first, to be followed by the others. After your presentations, which we look forward to, we will have questions from senators. Please proceed.

Guy Gosselin, Director, Building Regulations, NRC Construction, National Research Council Canada: I am happy to be here to represent not only the National Research Council Canada in its capacity of hosting the National Model Construction Codes Development System, but also on behalf of the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes in the capacity of deputy chair.

I will make brief remarks to you to explain the national codes — what they are, how they are developed and their impact on Canadians and industry. I will try to stress the importance of and the various ways the stakeholders interested in the codes can participate in their development.

What are the codes? We are talking about the National Building Code of Canada, which regulates or provides a tool for regulating the design and construction of buildings, and it applies prior to construction. The National Fire Code of Canada is the document that regulates the use and maintenance of the fire safety measures built into buildings. It is also used for the control of fire hazards within buildings and facilities, and it also applies to mitigate the risk on construction and demolition sites. There is also the National Plumbing Code of Canada that contains detailed provisions for related plumbing. We also publish the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings that contains and provides requirements on energy efficiency for all buildings.

The scope of the codes, I would like to point out, is often misunderstood. People expect the codes to mitigate most of the risks related to buildings, within houses and other buildings. The codes have a limited mandate and role. Their scope is limited to the objectives that are officially now explicitly detailed in the codes themselves — in Division A of the codes — and they are primarily about health and safety.

They also contain provisions for accessibility and now have objectives related to the environment and to the efficient use of energy. There is a proposed objective now to augment the scope of the codes to also deal with water-use efficiency.

Beyond that, the code is not meant to address other issues. Even within those particular objectives, the code would not be a tool that would be capable of providing against complete control of all of the risks, even fire safety. It attempts to mitigate and bring down the level of risk to one that is considered acceptable by society.

There is nothing within the codes — and the codes are usually well written that way — to prevent anyone from exceeding the minimums in the code. They are essentially the minimums that the government, on behalf of society, decides to impose and regulate. For example, property protection of houses is not a stated objective of the codes, even though it is clear that whenever we do suffer a loss in terms of a house burning down, it is a tremendous loss to people involved.

What the code does provide for is the safe egress of the occupants within a quick or reasonable period of time. Beyond that, unfortunately, if the house burns down, it will burn down. Insurance is there for that purpose, or the home owners can also augment, exceed and invest in their property for additional protection for economic reasons or security measures. They are always free to do so.

Who has jurisdiction? At NRC, we need to make clear that we host a system of development of the national codes. We, together with the Canadian commission that I will say a few words about, aim to provide a model tool for regulation that is made available to the jurisdictional authorities that have the power to adopt, enforce and modify the codes as they wish. Those would be primarily the provinces and territories for the vast majority of the lands of Canada. The Constitution does provide responsibility for matters of construction to the provinces and territories. So they are responsible to adopt the codes, to enforce them, to oversee any necessary training, education or the licensing of trades and professions when they see fit to license or require that.

From my understanding, the federal government has a limited role. It has a role and responsibility to apply the codes within federal lands, because the Constitution also provides that authority to the federal government to exercise sovereignty over its lands.

Beyond that, NRC and the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes do not get involved on the issues of who should be responsible for adopting and enforcing. We aim to provide the most technically sound requirements that others can use to try to regulate or mitigate the risk.

That is where NRC fits in. It has had that mandate since 1937. That has been a long-standing mandate. At that time the provinces and industry petitioned the federal government for solutions because of the non-uniformity of the various bylaws and regulations that were adopted locally. It was quite a patchwork. This non-uniformity was creating a lot of headaches and inefficiencies in the system, so the federal government agreed to intervene. It asked the NRC whether it could accept the mandate of hosting a system, but to do so in a way that would always respect the fact that the federal government and the NRC have no jurisdictional authority, and to respect those who have the power to adopt and adapt those codes as they see fit. NRC has been developing the codes since then.

The best way NRC found to be able to deliver on that mandate in a way that would be respectful of the authorities was to create and give the mandate to an independent commission that it establishes. On that commission sit volunteers from across the country who represent, on a matrix system, about one third for the regulatory interests, whether at the provincial or municipal level, both building and fire officials. Also, a third of a membership matrix would have representatives from industry and the other third would be from general interest groups.

The commission is responsible for approving the content recommended by its standing committees. It has nine technical standing committees that also have a balanced matrix of experts that come from regulatory, industry and public sector, or public interest groups, as well as the different regions of Canada on each of those technical committees. They're the ones that make the technical recommendations on the code. The commission approves those and oversees the process, making sure that due diligence is applied. It has a well-detailed set of policies and procedures that inform both the proponents and the committees on how to go about making sure the due process is followed in entertaining code change requests.

NRC, for its part, establishes this commission and provides administrative, technical and research support to it. It provides staff that will sit on each of the standing committees and on the commission, such as me and my colleague, Philip Rizcallah. We sit on those committees in an ex officio, non-voting capacity, so that the decisions are always made by the volunteers who are appointed on these committees.

The key features of that system are that it operates under the smart principles, making sure it's open, transparent, accessible and that everybody has a chance to be heard. Every dissenting opinion will be heard and will be considered prior to final decisions being made. There is a well spelled out consultative process. Each year all of the proposals that are developed by the technical committees are submitted to a public review or public consultation period in the fall. We've just had one that terminated in December for a series of changes. That public consultation is wide open, and there are facilities to capture all of the comments. Every comment submitted is considered by the technical committees before they finalize their proposals or recommendations to the commission.

In terms of participation — and I'm close to ending on this — there are different ways. Even though the committees are technical experts, they form working groups and invite others to help them formulate the detailed proposed changes in the code and consider where either to expand the scope of the codes or the requirements or not or to develop some new provisions to deal with new risks that are identified. They realize they're not perfect, so they rely on public consultation to make sure to invite all of the stakeholders and affected stakeholders to provide some information that might have been missed through the committee deliberations and then for them to finalize the recommendations. The public and stakeholders can participate by offering to sit on the committees. They can also apply to observe the committee deliberations and make presentations and present some memoirs or some memos and evidence to the committees. They're also invited to comment when the committees are ready to make their proposal and announce their proposal, so they can comment on them. Certainly, they can also submit code change requests at any time — there's no set period. Any time during the year anyone can submit a code change request, which will get treated and addressed by the committees.

That is essentially the brief overview on the national codes development system. My colleague and I are ready, whenever it suits your agenda, to answer any questions you may have on that. My colleague is also prepared to provide a description, if you're interested, a high-level overview of what sort of provisions apply for housing and for schools. We know that's a particular concern for your mandate and your committee, at this time, in terms of your study. If you're interested, my colleague could certainly provide you with that overview.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Gosselin. We will leave the questions to the end of the presentations.

Shall we hear from the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada next, if you're ready, Mr. Kent?

Richard Kent, Secretary and Treasurer, Aboriginal Firefighters of Canada: Thank you, senators and guests. Our names are Arnold Lazare, sitting next to me, and Richard Kent, of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada.

Our mission as an association is as follows:

The Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC) is a united body of regional First Nations Fire Protection Associations and First Nation Fire Service Providers from across Canada established to:

Represent the interests of these associations and service providers nationally;

Assist in the exchange of information;

Support the implementation of services;

Promote national standards in fire prevention, education and suppression within First Nations in Canada.

AFAC was established over 25 years ago with these goals in mind. These First Nation fire service people would meet each year at Aboriginal firefighters' competitions, along with the school poster competition winners. These two events were held in conjunction with each other in a different province each year.

These two events were sponsored by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and were helpful in promoting training and awareness for our First Nation volunteer firefighters and fire safety to our schools. These First Nation fire service providers decided at one of these events to form an association with the ultimate goal of sharing information and best practices in our First Nation communities across Canada. This was all on a volunteer basis and with no funding from anyone other than themselves.

On June 2, 1992, the Assembly of First Nations officially passed a resolution recognizing AFAC as the voice of fire and emergency safety in Canada's First Nation communities. Although today Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has passed the fire competitions and the school poster contest over to AFAC, along with the funding to provide these services for them, the AFAC board is still made up of fire service individuals from different regions across Canada, and still on a volunteer basis. No AFAC board member is paid for their services or even gets an honorarium or a per diem. We do the job because we are passionate about working together to provide safe First Nation communities across Canada.

We also have a seat on the board of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, and the ultimate goal of both associations is to provide all of Canada's communities with the best possible safety standards in regard to fire and emergency services in the world.

AFAC is willing to work hand in hand with any group that will help us to achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves and our communities.

In your handouts you will find A Legislative Framework to Improve Fire Prevention and Fire Protection on First Nations Reserves, which was submitted to various MPs and senators last March in Ottawa at the annual Government Relations Week with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. I attended this event and was able to speak to a great many influential people who help to direct this great country of ours to a safer tomorrow, and I appreciated the comments and questions related to our issues. I very much hope to speak with you on these issues and more today and look forward to our time together.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Kent. We'd now like to call on Mr. de Hooge.

John de Hooge, Fire Chief, Ottawa Fire Service, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs: Good evening, senators, and thank you, Mr. Chair. I'd like to thank the committee for the invitation to speak to this important public safety issue. My name is John de Hooge and I am the fire chief for the Ottawa Fire Service. I'm also a member of the executive committee of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and our liaison for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. I'd like to provide you with some brief background on our association.

The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs is a non-partisan, national association formed in 1908. Our 1,000 members include fire chiefs and other chief fire officers from every Canadian province and territory and include fire chiefs from Canadian airports, seaports, industry, major health care facilities, Canadian Forces establishments and, of pertinence to your current study, from Canada's First Nation communities.

The CAFC is best positioned to speak on behalf of all elements of the Canadian fire service. Our national board of directors includes the presidents of each provincial and territorial association of fire chiefs, as well as representatives of our valued partner — the Aboriginal Firefighters Association.

Today it is my privilege to join my colleague and AFAC Secretary and Treasurer Commissioner Richard Kent to continue our joint efforts to strengthen First Nations fire prevention and protection. As a CAFC director, Commissioner Kent advises the CAFC on fire protection issues on First Nation reserve communities and leads the CAFC's advocacy on this important issue.

One of the primary purposes of our association is to serve as a trusted adviser to the federal government — to the ministry, parliamentarians and senior public servants. The highlight of our yearly federal advocacy is the CAFC Government Relations Week in Ottawa, during which fire chiefs and chief fire officers from coast to coast to coast meet with MPs, senators and senior ministerial staff to advance our public safety priorities. We also send delegations to six different departments on a variety of important issues.

For us, the issue is that last March, during our Government Relations Week, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada visited parliamentarians to discuss our top priorities, one of which was First Nations fire protection. It was our goal to leverage the strength of the CAFC's reputation and advocacy program to raise awareness for the glaring gaps in fire protection in so many of Canada's First Nations communities.

Due to the lack of an enforceable regulatory framework for fire inspection and protection in First Nations communities, many of Canada's indigenous people living on reserves live at far greater risk of fire emergency than the rest of us. Most Canadians and their communities are provided with legally mandated fire prevention and protection services based on standards established through complementary federal and provincial legislative frameworks.

As you heard, nationally, fire prevention is governed by the National Building and Fire Code, which is administered by the National Research Council. Presently, there is no legislative framework for the application of the National Building and Fire Code in First Nations communities.

This legislative vacuum is dangerous, as there are no applicable building or fire code standards that govern fire prevention and protection in First Nations communities. The absence of a legislative framework also extends to fire inspections. There is no requirement to conduct these inspections or enforce code violations within First Nations communities. The same is true for fire investigations, which are sporadically and voluntarily conducted at the discretion of the fire department.

Our fire marshals and commissioners play an important role in ensuring safety standards for fire prevention across all provinces and territories. Since First Nations communities fall under federal responsibility, there is no fire marshal responsible for fire safety and prevention within Canada's First Nations communities. The installation of a federal fire marshal for First Nations communities would provide oversight and ensure adherence to legislated standards that presently do not exist.

Canada's fire chiefs have worked with Commissioner Kent and the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada to develop a concise list of actionable recommendations that would provide the legislative regulatory framework necessary to extend the same fire prevention and protection Canadians living off-reserve enjoy.

I respectfully put forward the following recommendations collectively endorsed by both of our associations: first, the introduction of federal legislation to apply federal or provincial building and fire codes to First Nations communities; second, the creation of a legislative framework mandating fire inspections, an enforcement protocol to address code infractions and the process of conducting fire investigations; third, that the appropriate capacity and mandate be provided to the AFAC by AANDC and HRSDC to carry out fire inspections through regional First Nations partners; and fourth, the creation of an independent federal fire marshal for First Nations communities to provide oversight and ensure adherence to legislated standards.

The adoption of these measures will significantly improve fire prevention and protection standards for First Nations communities in Canada, creating a safer environment for First Nations peoples living on-reserve.

I'd be pleased to answer any questions you may have, though Commissioner Kent's direct experience with these problems and work on these solutions is far greater.

Finally, I'd like to emphasize that Canada's fire chief feels strongly that this is an opportunity to strengthen fire prevention and protection in Canada by extending vital legislative protections and standards to some of our most vulnerable populations.

Thank you for your consideration.

The Chair: Thank you very much, all of you. I'd like to defer to the deputy chair of the committee for the first questions, and note that it was Senator Dyck's suggestion that we hear from you. I'm very glad she made that suggestion.

Senator Dyck: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for your presentations. They were very clear and concise.

There was a fire in Pelican Narrows, Saskatchewan, last month, and apparently it was the second fire within the last year. Children have died or have been seriously burned, so it was really top of my mind. We heard from a witness last week that there's 10 times greater likelihood that a fire on-reserve will result in a death. Your presentations tonight certainly are timely and enforce the need.

You have clear and strong recommendations on what could be done. My question with regard to instituting a legislative framework is this — and I have a simplistic understanding of firefighting, so pardon me: Within that legislative framework, should there be provisions for the training and certification of the firefighters themselves? It seems like a lot of times we're relying upon volunteers. Should there be provisions that deal with providing the resources to the First Nation so they can then train their own people to do the firefighting or the inspection, so that there are firefighters and the inspectors? Should a legislative framework cover those aspects so that there's actually money to train and employ those two categories of workmen?

The Chair: Mr. Kent, did you wish to respond, and perhaps Mr. de Hooge as well?

Mr. Kent: Yes. Thank you for the question. You are right to the point. These are some of the things I was hoping to speak on.

I am from Saskatchewan, from Prince Albert Grand Council. I'm the commissioner for emergency and protective services there, so I dealt with this issue.

I think that legislation in regard to building and fire codes would go a long way to establishing these standards and to ensure that we have inspectors. I do fire investigations in my area, and it's very unfortunate when I come to my conclusion on how the fire started, that a basic home fire inspection beforehand would have stopped that fire. The fire would not have happened had we had someone to go in to do a basic home fire inspection. We're talking about homes now. Within this framework for building and fire codes, that would definitely help.

In terms of firefighter training, the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada is in discussions with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. As a matter of fact, earlier today we had discussions with senior directors there. They are very interested in ensuring that our communities are safer and they want information from us. They want to try to build some sort of framework and ensure our communities are safer. We are giving them the information they need, but we do need to ensure that our firefighters and people are in the community to do the inspections and to do the re-inspections.

The reason I say ``to do the re-inspections'' is that HRSDC are still doing the inspections in First Nation public buildings up until March 31. Unfortunately, when they did inspections, all they could do was make suggestions because there was no enforcement available. The other thing is they were doing an inspection of a school once every three years and then we'll see again in three years. When I used to work at the Prince Albert fire department, and I did inspections, I issued orders. Depending on the infractions, I would say, ``You have two days to comply or there will be repercussions one way or another.''

There was an interaction between a business and us, where we would go and help them work through the problems and find a solution, whereas right now there isn't; it's just, ``We'll do an inspection and see you again in three years,'' and there's no teeth to it.

Yes, you did hit the nail on the head there. We really do need to ensure that this does come out of it. It's the same with the firefighting training. I'm sure that will help ensure that our firefighters are trained properly.

Senator Dyck: You say you do a basic fire inspection and then a re-inspection. What would be covered under the basic fire inspection? What are the main elements you're looking for?

Mr. Kent: When we talk about basic home fire inspections, we would like to go into each home in the community at least once a year to talk to the homeowners or renters or guests and explain that there are fire hazards that can be found in the home and go through the home with them and point these out. I find I will go to a home and I will see freezers, and the freezer is just a little bit too far away from the plug-in, three or four feet. They will find a 20-foot extension cord and plug it in, roll it up and throw it behind the freezer, not knowing this is a fire hazard. Extension cords are not meant to be used on a permanent basis and rolled up in a ball. They can heat up and start a fire.

It's not that the people in the homes don't care; it's that they don't know. We as fire service professionals need to get into the homes, point out the fire hazards and give them the information they need to know. Many a time I've seen things like that and they've said, ``Oh, my goodness; I didn't know that.'' They will ensure that it's done properly and we can work with them to help in that area.

We see many fire hazards. I always check in a home underneath the stairs where your storage is for food items. Kids love to go underneath there. That's their little fort. We look for candles and burned matches in there because it's their fort. We have to ensure that we're looking for the proper fire hazards in the home, and pointing it out to the homeowner and giving them the information that they need to know. They're not all firefighters; they don't know this information. We do. We should be passing it along to them.

As to the re-inspections, that's more for buildings. If I inspect a daycare and I see there's a problem with an exit door or emergency lighting, I will tell them a good time frame to have that fixed is a day, day and a half or two days, a week. I will work with them. Then I will go back to ensure that it has been completed and done and is up to code now. We can't just tell them, ``This is what needs to be done and I'll see you again in a year.'' We want to make sure that the infractions have been fixed, and if they need more information on how to do it, we're there to help.

Senator Sibbeston: In January of this year there was a fire on the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan in which two boys were killed. This is probably typical of stories that we often here about fires and people killed, oftentimes on First Nations reserves and in our country. I know too in the materials we have there are only 20 First Nations in our country that have building and fire codes and so forth. It seems this is the extent to which communities are organized with respect to having certain standards of building and fire codes.

I appreciate there's a great problem, but does it cost a lot for a community to have its own fire department? This would involve a fire hall, fire truck, hoses and chemicals to deal with fires, and then volunteers oftentimes, because these would be little places. If you can imagine a First Nation community in a remote area, most of the resources go to the much more needed services to people — the schools and the houses and so forth.

Do you think sometimes that the issue of fire prevention is set aside because it happens so rarely or maybe once or twice a year? It's not something that's obvious every day, yet in the event of a fire you need to have a good fire department. Is it because it costs a lot to set up a proper fire department with well-trained volunteers?

Mr. Lazare: Yes, it's very expensive to set up a fire department. Part of AFAC's push is to look at the prevention. Statistics will indicate that for every dollar you spend on prevention, it's $100 in operations. In terms of prevention, we know it's well documented that smoke detectors save lives. If we could ensure that there was a champion in each community, and without getting into splitting hairs, do you call it a fire chief? Do you call it a fire prevention officer? If each community had one person to be able to talk about fire prevention, then we're confident that the number of fire deaths would drop.

I'm from a ``have'' community — Kahnawake. We use the National Fire Protection Association codes. We're a proactive department. We put two people in the schools every year for a whole month. There are enough schools that it takes a month. We're very proud of the children, because we've had two confirmed cases where the children woke up their parents when the smoke detector went off. It could have been a very different scenario.

Yes, fire prevention is a major component of any program. If you have a community of 50 houses, a cost analysis has to be done, but whether you have a community of 50 or a community of 500, if you have the legislative levels there, it's treating them the same on a safety level.

Mr. de Hooge: I think Mr. Lazare has made some great points. Whether you need a fire service really needs to be based on a risk assessment, which will help determine the level of protection that you need. However, the notion of fire prevention being the most critical aspect of educating a community is probably understated and underappreciated. I'll give you the example from here in Ottawa.

If people don't have their own fire-escape plan, their own smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and what have you, if they believe that the fire service will be there to rescue them, in many cases that is not the case, because the way building materials burn today, as rapidly as they do, if you aren't educated, if you haven't taken your own preventive measures, the risk of injury and loss of life is significantly increased. Education is a key element in saving lives and property.

Senator Wallace: Mr. Gosselin, my first question is for you.

I don't think any of us would argue with the logic of having building codes for all buildings throughout the country, whether on reserves or otherwise, and the need for proper inspection and proper construction standards. All of that is common sense. Your organization has worked hard to develop those standards, which can then be adopted by the various provinces and territories.

In the work you have done, have you paid any special attention to the circumstances on reserves and determined if there are certain types of standards that should be applied because of the unique circumstances on-reserve? When I say that, it could be in relation to the climate, northern climates, and the nature of the lands on which construction takes place. If it is on permafrost, obviously that is a huge factor in construction, and the remoteness of some of the reserve communities.

Has NRC considered any of that in the context of developing tailor-made or special provisions that would relate to construction in those circumstances?

Mr. Gosselin: Certainly, the committees are aware of the impact of the climate, for example, on the performance of buildings and the need for adjusting to the climate in terms of performance. Many of the provisions certainly would take that under consideration. There is no doubt about the fact that for the energy code, for example, they have to do that and separate the country into different zones, for seismic reasons as well. The country will have different risks associated with different zones and need to be adapted to them. The provisions of the code, on the structural side particularly, account for those.

In terms of the needs or the conditions of remote communities, the committees are aware of the fact that some of the provisions of the code, for example, spatial separations between houses and limiting distance of property, are based on certain assumptions that the fire services will be able to respond within a period of time. If that is not possible because of the remoteness or other reasons, then the local authority having jurisdiction is certainly alerted to the fact in the codes, in the appendix of the codes, or in the code requirements, that they need to consider modifying the requirements — for example, varying the distance between houses to compensate for the fact that there might not be firefighting or fire services that might prevent conflagration between houses.

They do take some of those issues into consideration. Whatever issues or concerns are normally raised certainly get considered. That is how the process works. The committees and the experts themselves, through their own experience, will bring issues to the table, but most often the issues come in through the code change request and letters sent in by stakeholders and by anyone who will raise these and say there are special considerations here that perhaps should be accounted for. Then the committees will deliberate on those.

Senator Wallace: I could be a little more pointed in my comment. Perhaps it will affect the answer you might give.

I understand that 20 out of 660 reserves across the country have adopted codes, which is a pretty low percentage, to put it mildly. Why is that? Why are codes and standards not applicable? Why have they not been adopted by the chiefs and band councils in the various reserves? Would it be because the existing national codes do not account for the special circumstances that would exist on reserves and, therefore, that would be a reason, perhaps, that the chiefs and councils wouldn't be able to adopt them? Or is that not the case? Are the codes there, the standards there, and merely the acceptance of them is what is required?

Mr. Gosselin: I will turn it over to Mr. Rizcallah in a moment, but certainly the standards are equally applicable to the housing on reserves, in remote communities and for everybody else. It is the same standards and fire safety measures that need to be built into those constructions. Smoke alarms are the primary critical fire safety measure that needs to be installed, and they need to be installed not just with battery operation. They need to be interconnected; they need to be on every level; they need to be close to the sleeping areas to alert the sleeping occupants.

Perhaps Mr. Rizcallah can expand in terms of some of the other measures.

Philip Rizcallah, Manager, Canadian Codes Centre, NRC Construction, National Research Council Canada: To your question, the codes are a set of minimum requirements. When the committees do deliberate and look at these items, as an example, they will look at something like firewalls and they will introduce requirements for firewalls, taking into account that places in the North, for instance, may have difficulty meeting the previous requirements for firewalls, so they will allow different methods to meet that. Rather than build with masonry, we would allow a different type of technology to account for these remote areas.

It is similar with water supply. We won't say you must have a municipal water supply on this site. We will say you have to have an adequate water supply, which leaves it open to the discretion of that community to decide how they will meet that adequate water supply.

We talk about qualifications of people who are conducting inspection of fire alarm systems, for example. We don't say that they have to be qualified to a certain standard, but we say they have to be knowledgeable, so that if you are in a remote area you can't necessarily bring in an engineer to do that inspection. You could designate somebody who would be knowledgeable in that type of system. That does reflect the remoteness and allows for that.

Senator Watt: Thank you for your presentation.

I will carry on from Senator Wallace's point with regard to the code, whether it is related to the code for fire, for the building or for construction or whatever it may be.

This national standards that you are talking about, the national codes, are they geared toward only federal land that is occupied by whomever that might be, but the land is owned by the federal government? Do you see the distinction between the federal land that is being used and what can also apply at the provincial level? Let me get to the point.

I believe the provincial governments across the country have their own set of codes aside from the national code. Sometimes they complement it one way or the other. Why is it that existing codes that are already available and already work for the provincial government and for their citizens could not be applied on-reserve rather than asking for the federal government to have a legislative base? In a sense, what we are talking about here is provincial responsibility. If the First Nation is worrying about falling under the provincial jurisdiction and wanting to remain under the federal jurisdiction, that might be the reason why, but there is a way to deal with those two, to build your safeguard, if you don't want to be totally governed by the provincial government. Arrangements can be worked out.

Have you had any discussions on that aspect with the government authorities?

Mr. Gosselin: If I may make a comment about one of the aspects that you have raised, then qualify that we are not involved in the administration of the codes, so that I wouldn't be qualified to be able to offer you an opinion on whether it should be a provincial code or whether it should be a new regulatory federal legislative framework to try to deal with the issue of, perhaps, the lack of regulations on First Nations lands.

I'd like to clarify one thing between the national and provincial codes. The NRC and the commission put out a national model code. It's not only for the federal government; it's really for use by the authorities having jurisdiction for the regulatory authorities. Most of them are the provinces and the territories. Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and B.C. adopt their own codes but largely based on the national model; they just call them their Quebec code or Ontario code. All the other provinces adopt essentially the national model code as their code. They make minor modifications when they adopt, so half a dozen or so tweaks of requirements, but they essentially adopt the national code. So the national codes apply.

If you look at the national building code, for example, you could probably consider that it addresses more than 95 or 98 per cent of building construction in Canada. There may be a problem with regard to the application of these codes or, certainly, the national model codes with regard to the reserves, but, again, that is not for us to comment on. I will defer to the representatives here. Perhaps they could comment on that.

Mr. Lazare: Part of it comes down to it being in a grey zone — for instance, federal or provincial jurisdiction.

I will use workman's compensation in Quebec, for example. The workman's compensation is legislated in Quebec, but, depending on which technocrat you talk to, it is not enforceable on the reserve because there is no link; there is no bridge between the provincial legislation and the federal legislation. Kahnawake was a scenario where we had an operational agreement with the fire department surrounding us, but the legal opinion we got was that if it was a non- Native firefighter responding on a reserve, they would not be covered by workman's compensation. It went quite high up in the government, and it wasn't totally resolved because there is a gap in the legislation.

Operationally, we have made agreements and they said it is not an issue until somebody gets hurt, which is a very shaky operation, but amongst the firemen, we respond to our neighbours and our neighbours respond to us. However, there are a lot of grey zones, which nobody really wants to try to identify. I don't think it's anything saying that the codes are not applicable or not enforceable; it comes down to someone having to make a decision.

The Chair: Do you wish to add something, Mr. Kent?

Mr. Kent: Yes, I would. To get that information you are really seeking, you do have to go to our chiefs. We don't speak on behalf of our chiefs. We speak on behalf of the firefighters and the people in the community that we are trying to keep safe, and we leave the political side to our chiefs.

After having said that, I know there could be problems in implementing the building and fire code, not so much to ensure that the building and fire codes are followed, because our chiefs are trying to follow the building and fire codes. They want their people safe; they will build to the code. It is after the homes are built, and we start doing inspections on these buildings and schools. Right now, they are being done by HRSDC. That will end March 31. We have been told the money put forth by HRSDC to do these inspections is no longer going to be there. If these inspections are to continue on by other parties, they will have to come out of existing money from the regions. That means cutting into dollars for our First Nation communities. They intend to keep doing these inspections, although, as I mentioned before, visiting a school once every three years is a very ineffective method of doing these inspections, yet it costs money. If they do adopt these, who will do the inspections? Where will the money come from? Who will do the training? Will it be whoever puts in the lowest bid who gets to do these inspections? Or will there be capacity building within our First Nation communities and organizations?

I am also a member of FNNBOA; I think you had people here, the First Nations National Building Officers Association. They share the same concerns we have, and that is for the building and fire codes to be applicable. But who will do these inspections? Are we going to do more than go to a school and then say, ``We will see you again in three years?'' It is not enough — not only those inspections but home inspections. Let us stop the fires before they start. Let's inform the homeowners about fire prevention programs, what they have in their community for fire and safety, and let's get some dialogue going between all of our First Nations and our emergency service providers.

Senator Watt: Maybe I should have included this on my first round of questioning. How many years have you been impressing upon the government to deal with this issue on the basis of the requirement on a legislative basis? How long have you been wrestling with that?

Mr. Kent: We joined with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs a few years ago. This is when we started to bring our concerns to them. Luckily, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has a lot of members. They are very strong and they know a lot about fire protection, prevention, fire suppression, all areas. They are a great source to draw upon because we have so many people with the information that we need. That is when we started informing them about some of the problems that we have in our First Nation communities. We didn't have that link before.

These aren't the only problems, but we want to pick and choose our issues right now and work on them and try to solve them. These are some of the first ones, so it is about three years.

Senator Watt: About three years?

Mr. Kent: Yes.

Senator Watt: Do you feel you are getting any closer to convincing the authorities to have a legislative base?

Mr. Kent: I think we are. I have been told that there is a lot of buzz now about the building and fire codes and an office of the fire marshal for First Nation communities. I am hopeful that we are going to see some improvements in that area. I know I get a lot of questions about it. When I was here last year during Government Relations Week, I had a lot of firefighters that had come to talk to the government officials, and they were bringing those members of Parliament and their senators over to me because they wanted to meet me and talk about these issues. A lot of them said they didn't realize that there were no building or fire codes that applied to First Nation communities. I think yes, with its being in the public eye and with your trying to get the information from us and trying to get it out to the rest of our politicians in Canada, I am very hopeful that we will see movement.

The Chair: You could provide a little background. I'm very curious why HRSDC is doing the inspections. That surprised me. I would have thought their mandate was human resource development. I know it is ending, but do you have any idea how that came to be?

Mr. Kent: I actually don't.

Mr. Lazare: I've been with the Aboriginal Firefighters from the beginning, and, basically, we were told that that was who was going to do the inspections. We had no input as to why or how. It was a rolled-down program that we've been required to deal with.

The Chair: Can you enlighten us, Mr. Rizcallah?

Mr. Rizcallah: Yes. I have worked with HRSDC for about 15 years. Public Works used to have the mandate. Labour programs was under Public Works, and they had the mandate for fire inspections and fire engineering services. That then morphed into HRSDC, about 20 years ago I guess, and they assumed it at that time. They had a little component called ``fire protection engineering, labour programs.'' That's why they've had it. In a round of recent cuts, that portion of HRSDC was terminated. On March 31, the fire program — the labour program portion — will no longer exist under that program.

The Chair: That is helpful. Thank you.

Senator Moore: I was going to ask the same question. When did you find out that fire inspection service by HRSDC would be ceasing at the end of March this year? When did you learn that?

Mr. Lazare: We were informed, unofficially, three years ago that there would be changes. I believe two years ago, we got formal notification, followed, recently, by news that March was the deadline for it to end.

Senator Moore: What has happened since then to try to fill this coming void? Mr. Lazare or Mr. de Hooge — I don't know if your organization would be involved — who would recognize that void and say, ``Okay, we have to get something going here. Let's train some people.'' Who takes charge of that responsibility?

Mr. Lazare: We've been asking that question. We've been asking, and we were recently informed. As Mr. Kent reported, we had that meeting with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada yesterday. At that time, they informed us that there was a transitional plan where they were going to subcontract various agencies to do it. There wasn't a whole lot of information.

Once again, it was a rolled-down program. We don't have the influence. We asked for answers, and we were more or less informed that a transitional plan is happening. I guess the optimistic news is that the people who are now responsible have requested that we become involved. We said that we are more than happy to. Once again, things are moving. Where will it be? We're not 100 per cent sure.

Senator Moore: When you got the rumour three years ago and the formal notice two years ago, did anybody say, ``This is an opportunity. We have three years to train some of our people. It makes jobs and helps to provide education about fire prevention. Let's put a team together''? Did anybody think about doing that? Mr. Kent?

Mr. Kent: Yes. When we heard that, we all discussed that together and said, ``This is really a good opportunity.'' That was when we started to speak about the building and the fire codes, that we really wanted to push these issues and that we could build capacity within our own First Nation communities to do our own inspections. We are there; we are ready to go.

Senator Moore: Where did that go?

Mr. Kent: We are ready to go back into the communities and do that. What we were getting was that there was no new money. In other words, for us to do that, we would have to do some training with some of our First Nation people.

Senator Moore: The research we have indicates that maybe the department will take this over, but I don't know about taking it over. Maybe they will just contract it out. To me, there is money there, whether they are paying it to themselves or whether it is going to contractors. Why don't you move on that money? That is what I would have tried to do.

Senator Dyck: It's old money.

Senator Moore: It's money that is committed; it's already there.

Senator Dyck: That's right.

Senator Moore: I think this is a great opportunity. I wouldn't want to see you miss it because it is a chance to provide a great service and take some responsibility, some authority, and really show some leadership.

Senator Wallace and Senator Watt asked about the fact that only 20 First Nations have taken up the code and about the gray zone. That seems to be a jurisdictional thing between what the band can do under the Indian Act and whether provincial bylaws can be enforced on-reserve. It seems to me that the more of these things you can do under your own, the more that gray zone disappears. You become your own boss. I thought that was where you would like to be headed. Somewhere in there, chair, is a question.

The Chair: May we have a response, Mr. de Hooge?

Mr. de Hooge: I certainly support the notion that the First Nations community has the vested interest in terms of their constituents' public safety and that they would be best served by having the training and the skill set and the resources, financial and otherwise, to be able to do those inspections.

The other piece I wanted to make clear was that the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, who have assisted AFAC in bringing some of the issues to light and lobbying the government, will continue that role but also are here as a support to AFAC and to First Nations to help bring that transition about quickly if that opportunity presented itself.

Senator Moore: Can I ask a supplementary, chair? Who trains fire inspectors now, whether it is in Ottawa or in Saskatchewan, on- or off-reserve? Who trains an inspector to say that that person is now qualified and can go onto that land or to that city or whatever and inspect with confidence? The report will be solid, and we can set up a regular routine of annual inspections. Who qualifies? Who teaches, and who says that they are certified to do that?

Mr. de Hooge: Each jurisdiction or territory would have, ideally through the fire marshals and commissioners, that kind of training available, based on local codes and standards. That creates that commonality, the standard.

Senator Moore: Could a reserve go to, say, the Saskatchewan Fire Marshal and say, ``We want to have some of our people certified. We want one in each community.'' Could they go do that and then go look after this work themselves?

Mr. de Hooge: They could, but it would probably be geared to provincial or territorial codes and standards. Having said that, there is not a lot of difference, in that programs can be massaged to meet the federal need.

Senator Moore: We heard that most of the provinces adopt the federal model anyway as being their code. I just thought that's a real opportunity.

Maybe someone else wants to speak to that. Mr. Lazare or Mr. Kent, anything further on that?

Mr. Kent: Yes. I just wanted to let you know that some of us from the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada brought that information back to our own provinces and have spoken with some of our First Nation fire personnel. There are some people who are interested in doing those inspections. Of course, it has to be at arm's length; they don't want a fire inspector from the same community doing those inspections. They want it at arm's length, and rightfully so.

We are working towards that. We do have some people who will qualify. We do have First Nation qualified people who will be doing these inspections, but we would like to see more.

The other area where we run into trouble is that we want to do these more often than they were previously being done. We're cutting into our own First Nation monies because with the money that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada were giving to HRSDC, they're saying that's off the table now. That money will now have to come from existing funding. In other words, that comes from the communities in some way or another.

Senator Moore: If the fact is that they're going to contract it out to somebody else to do, the money is there. It's not your money; it's in their department.

Mr. Kent: It's from existing money, though. It is from existing First Nation money. It would have to come out of capital or somewhere else, which could mean a house in one community.

Senator Moore: I don't understand that. They have money in the department they were going to spend for some contractor. Why couldn't the contractor be a company or a group of people from the First Nations who could do this work?

Mr. Kent: Absolutely.

Senator Moore: And not penalize, if I can use that word, the First Nations for looking after themselves, which will save money for everybody down the road.

Mr. Kent: Absolutely. I believe that will happen in a lot of areas. First Nations organizations will put forth that they have qualified people, they would like to do those inspections and put a bid in, or whatever the government requires. But maybe the bid is too much or they don't qualify in certain areas. I'm sure the federal government would like to see First Nations people doing the inspections, but if they can't, they have to cover it off somehow.

The Chair: We may have the opportunity to ask the department about that. I will have to turn the chair over to Senator Dyck, but Senator Raine, you're next.

Senator Dyck (Deputy Chair) in the chair.

Senator Raine: Thank you very much. I apologize for being a little late tonight; I missed part of your presentation. I hope the questions I ask weren't answered in your presentation.

You have exposed a very interesting conundrum that is obviously facing First Nations right now with this March 31 deadline. Putting that aside, I recognize that most First Nations, or many First Nations, are rural communities. In non-Aboriginal rural communities, you have volunteer fire departments, and in some cases you have paid fire chiefs and assistant chiefs who, when they're not fighting a fire — and hopefully they're not for 364 and a half days a year — go about their day-to-day work doing these inspections.

In AFAC, do you have an ability to train fire chiefs and assistant fire chiefs to, as part of their job description, carry out fire prevention and fire inspections?

Mr. Kent: We have people who are associated with the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada who could. We are not involved in the delivery of services right now because we just don't have that kind of funding. For members of our association, absolutely, and we would like to train these firefighters and fire chiefs, fire officers, to do just that.

We don't have very many paid fire chiefs. They're volunteers. With our First Nation firefighters, by the way, when we use the term ``volunteer,'' I mean they're not even paid to tend to a fire or for training sessions. A lot of our municipal volunteer fire departments are paid when they tend to a fire, but they're not paid to be full-time. That is the same with the fire chief. We can give them a lot of training, but they normally have another job that puts the food on the table.

All of us at the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada would like nothing better than to see at least one paid fire chief in each of our communities. That depends on the size and how many duties they have. There is enough work in our average First Nations communities to keep a fire chief busy on a full-time basis with fire prevention programs and school programs. When we do training in the communities, we don't want the lights to go out when we leave; we want to make sure there's somebody left behind who will continue training.

I want to give you an example of my job outside of AFAC with the Prince Albert Grand Council. I look after 26 communities. We're getting some new ones. My department consists of me. I look after 26 communities. I do the firefighter training, fire investigations, fire inspections, emergency preparedness and search and rescue. You can imagine how many times I can get to these communities and do training. It's not enough. We need more people. I'm run off my feet. I'd love to take some holidays one of these days, too, but it's important, and this needs to happen. It's a bit of a struggle.

Would I like to see one fire chief when I leave the community to continue the training and to do home inspections? Absolutely. Would we save homes and property? Would we save lives? Absolutely.

Senator Raine: Obviously, there's a wide variety in First Nations and in communities across Canada, but basically what you're saying is the needs of a First Nation community are no different than those of any other small rural community. You're dependent on your volunteers, and hopefully there's some kind of a tax base that will raise enough money to get a truck and a part-time or full-time person who can do exactly the work that needs to be done.

At this point, there's no tax revenue on First Nations, and there isn't the revenue flowing from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada for this. In the past it was provided by HRSDC, and now it's up for grabs.

Mr. Kent: Yes. I'll speak briefly. That is correct. We would like to see the recommendations we bring forth to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and also to our chiefs and councils in our First Nations.

All we can do is bring forward our knowledge and our experience in the emergency and protective services field. It's up to the politicians to decide how that's going to be achieved and give us the information, and we'll work with whatever we have. I've done training with communities that have no fire protection equipment. If I have to train them to fight a fire with five-gallon pails, let's face it, if that's all you've got, that's what I'll train you with.

The Deputy Chair: Mr. de Hooge, did you have a comment?

Mr. de Hooge: I did. Senator, you made the comment about the need is no greater than or as great as other municipalities, and I would argue that it is much greater. That is a combination of factors, including the remoteness of where they live; the lack of fire resources, either trained people or equipment; and the lack of applicable standards and codes, inspections and public education. It is a much more urgent issue in First Nations communities.

Senator Tannas: Gentlemen, thank you very much. There are a couple of things that I wanted to understand, to sure that we're clear here, so that when we go away, we have some things in our mind.

Have any of you actually heard who will take over inspecting on April 1? We're all just speculating, right? It could be no one. There's no plan? Has anybody had a plan communicated to them?

Mr. Lazare: The person we met with Tuesday indicated that he was looking at First Nations organizations. For instance, he used as an example that it may be the Technical Service Advisory Group, TSAG, in Alberta. It might be the Ontario First Nations Technical Services. We haven't been given any actual details.

Senator Tannas: As far as we know, no decisions have been made and no one knows at this stage?

Mr. Rizcallah: What I do know is that after HRSDC's fire engineering and fire protection inspection service disbands at the end of March, in the case of federal departments — because they also service the federal departments — they're supposed to assume that responsibility. If they were servicing Fisheries and Oceans, for example, they now have to have that resource in place and service and take over that duty.

I can't speak for what's going to happen with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, but I do know that they've hired a few of the staff from HRSDC and put them with AANDC. Whether they're going to be taking on that responsibility themselves, I'm not sure. They basically got rid of that department and said, ``Now you're going to absorb it within your department.'' That's how they're going to deal with it.

Senator Tannas: Thank you. That shed some light on it.

There are 600-odd First Nations. Could you give us any kind of idea, even if it's rough, about how many of those communities would have no organized fire department, versus those that have at least equipment and a building and that sort of thing?

Mr. Lazare: I can talk about the Quebec region. Aboriginal Affairs commissioned a study to talk about functional fire departments. There's a whole report on what the definitions were, ability to respond and equipment. What we know from Quebec is that of 17 departments interviewed, initially three were operational, eight were at risk and five were non-functional. That's of communities that had fire departments. We didn't look at communities that don't have fire departments. In the report that we were given as of Monday it has increased. We have five functional departments now, but there are still eight at risk and three non-functioning.

We are trying to get the information because, once again, there's no empirical data on what the picture is like. Aboriginal Affairs is looking at level of service standards for comparable non-Native departments to begin with. Say, for a rural, non-Native community in northern Ontario, what would be the requirements? So that we have a template to use, and then we can judge the next level: What can be done?

There is definitely a lack of information.

Senator Tannas: How many members would you have in your association and how many locations would that represent?

Mr. Lazare: Any Native firefighter is considered a member. Once again, our service delivery is not a front-line service. We have the national fire competition, where the regional teams will compete. For the Quebec region we had five teams competing; this coming June we're anticipating 18 teams. It's the twenty-fifth year that we're running the regional competition. We have that many members. Across the country, different organizations are in different operating levels. We know there are issues in Manitoba. That's an internal issue.

At AFAC we're not politicians or micromanagers. They have to sort out their internal issues. We don't get involved at this point.

Senator Meredith: Thank you, gentlemen, for being here. Again, I apologize, like Senator Raine, for being delayed. We had another function to attend.

My question is with respect to the high levels or the high percentage of fires on First Nations communities, 10.7 times higher. That's quite alarming. Recently, there was a fire that was talked about, Mr. Kent. The fire trucks weren't even working. This is quite troubling. Then to hear that this program is ending — and coming to Senator Tannas's question, and it was one of my questions as well — there's no one in charge, seemingly. You're in limbo somewhat. What happens to the lives of those individuals or residents who are expecting that there will be somebody to inspect their buildings and so forth? Nothing is going to take place come April 1.

What's the plan? You've indicated that you have tried to speak to the authorities or Aboriginal Affairs. How can this committee help to move something ahead so that, again, First Nations people are not further put at risk, given the high percentage that we already know of?

Mr. Kent: I think what this committee can do, and is doing, is bring this to the attention of the politicians and the Canadian public. With that, we'll find out that what we really need is information so that we can act on that information. Right now, we don't have a lot of statistics, or good statistics, on First Nation fire services, First Nation fire deaths, the cause of most fires, because we don't require fire investigations. How can we learn why we're having so many fires, and how can we try to remedy that? I think we need information first.

Then we need to have the politicians discuss together a way to come up with solutions to the problems. We can sit there as technical advisers and give them the information they need and say, ``It's your communities. You decide on the level of service. If you need to talk to the federal government to do so, then hopefully that will happen.'' Then we can find the problems that we're seeing as emergency service providers. Hopefully we can see some of the problems go away. We can see at least a paid fire chief in the communities. If the community can't afford them, then why is that so? Is there something else we need to be doing? However we can help, we're willing to help. But let's face it; it's up to the community, the elected officials and the government to decide how that's all going to play out. We'll give you the information you need to know. When I go back I'll still be doing the inspections. I'm not paid to do inspections.

I do them when I can. I make sure I do all of our daycares, I make sure I do all of our Head Starts. I'm not paid to do that, but I know it needs to be done. So I do it, and I'll go back and work with them to ensure that the problems have been fixed.

My time is limited. It's all I can do, other than pass information off to people like you who can help get the job done.

Senator Meredith: Mr. Gosselin, my staff brought me up to speed on the fact that you mentioned something about mitigating that risk. What is the threshold for the level of risk that your organization is willing to accept when it comes to these codes?

Mr. Gosselin: With regard to life safety, the threshold is very low, or high, I guess, depending on what you mean by ``threshold.'' Level of risk is to try to bring it down to the minimum acceptable. That doesn't mean that in a building, even such as this one, if there was a fire there is absolutely a zero per cent probability of life loss. There's always a risk. There's a risk in every action and activity that we undertake in life, including being in buildings, and even with recently constructed buildings, there is a very low level, but there is still a level of risk.

That's what was meant by this level. It's not quantified. We certainly would hope that eventually one day we're able to quantify everything and quantify the performance exactly of buildings and have codes that would spell out, in quantitative terms, instead of just qualitative sometimes, the exact levels of risk and performance. But we're not quite there yet.

The codes often, and particularly for housing, for example, contain a lot of prescriptive rules that are certainly considered to be contributing towards lowering the risk. On the whole, we take a measure — or the witness to the outcome is the actual performance of those codes in practice over the years.

We do know that over the past three decades the number of lives lost has been reduced by half, and we certainly do see that the vast, broad implementation of smoke alarm requirements, not only in new homes but also to retrofit activity in existing homes, has contributed a great deal to that. A lot more, of course, could be done and should be done.

There's one interesting development that I failed to mention earlier that may be welcome. It will not be a panacea, and it will not necessarily perhaps be dealing with training in terms of currently mitigating hazards in existing houses, but in terms of new construction, in terms of house construction and in terms of additions, renovations to homes that normally would be required to conform to the codes, the requirements for housing are contained in Part 9 of the national codes.

Soon, in just a few months, we will be releasing a long-awaited illustrated guide to the code requirements, Part 9 requirements, which hopefully will go a long way to improving the training and the understanding of the code requirements and application of the code requirements more consistently in all situations.

Certainly that's not limited to the non-Aboriginal applications or opportunities. We have been approached by the Ontario First Nations Technical Services to consider helping them produce their own version for Aboriginal or First Nations within Ontario, and the Assembly of First Nations is aware of that and participated in some of those discussions.

They also might be considering having a special version of this illustrated guide produced that could be disseminated to the First Nations communities. Hopefully that will contribute to lowering the risk and increasing the safety with regard to new construction and renovations.

Senator Meredith: Rolling back into the codes, Mr. Lazare, the absence of codes or enforcement of codes on First Nations reserves, do you see a correlation between that and the number of fires that have been started? I don't know if you've already elaborated on that, but can you touch on that for me?

Mr. Lazare: Our community has codes.

Senator Meredith: But some communities do not.

Mr. Lazare: We share a lot of information, teleconference. If the codes were there, there would be a lot of deaths that could be avoided by having the ability to go into a house or a school and saying, ``This has to be done, that has to be done,'' then it would bring up the awareness.

That's really where you're saving lives. You can have the best codes in the world, but unless you have awareness of them and enforcement — one person asked us, would codes have avoided the last death in one of the communities? Well, it might not have directly avoided it, but if the codes were there, someone should have been in the building and could have said not to do the candles underneath the stairs, as Mr. Kent was talking about.

It brings the awareness. First and foremost is awareness. I'm sure there would be some hesitancy and people saying, well, it's being forced upon us, but at the end of the day, everybody is safer. I hope I answered your question.

Mr. de Hooge: The answer to your question is a resounding yes, but it's not just with respect to codes. As Mr. Lazare has said, it's a tool box. The tool box is to have the legislative framework that sets the expectation for a First Nations community. It's the codes; it's the standards; it's the training; it's the public education; it's the self-realization of First Nation communities, what their own personal responsibility is in protecting themselves and their families. It is that combination that makes success.

If you look at the non-First Nation communities, we've gone through that journey of having significant loss of life, and it is the changes to building codes, whether national, provincial or territorial; it is the programs that we've developed, because it's for seniors or the biggest fires that we face today are still kitchen-related cooking fires, those programs that are targeting those circumstances that are making the difference. It's the combination of that legislative framework, codes and standards, proper training, proper equipment and education.

Senator Meredith: Chief, maybe we'll do a collection so you can go to Jamaica and get a tan and just get some rest. Thank you for the hard work you do.

Mr. Kent: I appreciate it.

Senator Raine: I would like to ask Mr. Gosselin a very specific question on the codes. Is there a code for log home construction with regard to the fire hazard for log homes specifically? I know in a lot of rural and northern areas, people prefer to build their homes with logs. They're on the property. My experience, having lived in a log home, it that it is very hard to light a log home on fire. Is that part of the National Building Code?

Mr. Gosselin: The code requirements would apply to log home construction equally as to others. The fire safety requirements in homes are primarily handled through smoke alarms. That would be equally applicable to log homes. The other requirements relate to the spatial separation between buildings, and that would also be equally applicable. That's usually dependent on the size of openings that you have on the exterior walls and how far you are and what is the limiting distance to the property line.

All of the requirements apply. There is no special code that needs to apply. Part 9 of the code is applicable. The new energy efficiency provisions that have been just added to Part 9 of the code for houses in 2012 also apply for log home construction. They had particular challenges in terms of log homes being recognized for energy efficiency. They were accommodated. Experts participated in the development of the energy efficiency requirements, ensuring that adjustments were made to make sure that they could be applied to log home construction.

Senator Wallace: My questions follow up on Senator Tannas' point and the questions he asked you, Mr. Lazare, about the firefighting capability that exists on reserves. You gave a good response that was helpful regarding the circumstances in Quebec.

Are any of you aware of whether any assessment has occurred throughout the country on any kind of comprehensive basis to determine what the firefight capabilities are on various reserves across the country? Have any such requests been made to the chiefs and councils to provide that kind of information from their communities?

Mr. Kent: We would like to see something in that situation. Say the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada picks someone to go and start doing those assessments. I say to pick one of us because a study came out a few years ago where the information and questionnaires were sent to the communities. In all honesty, the response rate was terrible. The ones that responded were supposed to be the fire chiefs, who are volunteers, keep in mind, for the most part. The questions asked were: Do you have a viable fire department? Do you have the proper equipment? Which fire chief will say, no, we are terrible at fighting fires? Did we get the good information that we need? Absolutely not. Do we need an independent person to go in there and do an assessment of the community?

They may have a $1-million fire truck and $200,000 worth of equipment, but when we go in there and turn the key, the fire truck doesn't start and we find out there's no battery in it. When we call ``fire'' no one shows up. What good is that? We need to know if there are properly trained firefighters who will be able to show up and use equipment that's operating and have the expertise. It's not just having a fire truck, equipment and firefighters. Those are the questions normally asked, but they are the wrong questions to ask.

Senator Wallace: As with most things, money is required to solve a lot of problems. It becomes difficult to know how much money is needed if we don't know what is required, so that is the starting point. That type of comprehensive assessment is needed on a reserve-by-reserve basis. Then, it's possible to at least put a dollar amount in macro terms on the issue.

Mr. Kent: Exactly. As we stated, Mr. Lazare and I were both at a meeting with senior directors at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada today. They're paying for a study to look into each province to see the comparable services. What is supplied outside First Nations that is comparable to First Nations? Once they get that snapshot, then we want to go to our First Nations and make sure we do the proper study. We'll look at the First Nation community and see what the needs are and what they have. Then we'll find out what's needed to ensure that they are at least at the level of the other non-First Nation communities of comparable size. We'd do exactly what you are saying. You definitely hit the nail on the head. We need to know what is needed before we start pouring money into it.

We know we still need to train the firefighters because there will still be fires that won't wait for us to complete these studies. When we have the information, we need to sit down and talk to the professional people who can give them the information. Then it is up to them to set the level of service.

Senator Wallace: Thank you for that.

The Deputy Chair: As a supplemental to that, would you pose that as a recommendation? Earlier you said you thought there should be one paid fire chief per community, as a recommendation. Would you say we should also recommend that this type of study be undertaken as you have just outlined?

Mr. Kent: Absolutely. I would make that recommendation on behalf of our association. We definitely would like to see it move in that area.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you.

Mr. de Hooge: To be specific, you are talking about doing a risk assessment. To do a risk assessment, you need to reference codes or standards. You have to be able to say, ``Here is what we are measuring to.'' That is a key element. That process, if the legislative framework is there, will help to determine your public education, needed enforcement programs and response capabilities — all of the elements that keep individuals, families and communities safe.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you for that information.

Senator Moore: Yesterday, we were talking about this topic. We had the National First Nations Housing Strategy, which was passed by the AFN on July 19, 2012. One of the items that they want to address in implementing this strategy is ``initiate efforts at data gathering to support AFN advocacy and facilitation role.''

We are told the AFN meets twice a year. Could you gentlemen, as a panel or one or many of you, go there and make a presentation at the gathering of chiefs so they would hear in one session the importance and value of this and the role they can play to ensure the safety of their people and reduce the risk of tragedy? Could you not go there? If you have them all in a room, you could talk to them individually. There is no stigma or anything. ``We're all in this together''— could that kind of approach work? Would you consider doing something like that? Could you get on the agenda at the next meeting? This is very important stuff and, as you told Senator Tannas, we don't know who is taking over. We think it is somebody, but we are not sure. Speak to that as an opportunity within this. Is that something you would consider doing?

Mr. Kent: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, we were in earlier — most of us from the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada flew in this past Sunday. We had meetings and that was one of the topics raised. Our executive director asked to set up a meeting either with the Grand Chief or with all of the chiefs. It is very tough to get on the agenda. They have so many topics, it is very tough; but we are trying to do that.

Senator Moore: This is their topic — data gathering. It is their recommendation adopted nationally by the AFN. You are just trying to help them meet their agenda. That is just an idea.

Senator Tannas: This has been terrific. I know we are slowly coming to a close, but I am curious, Mr. Kent and Mr. Lazare, if you could tell me something off the top of your head. Who comes to mind for excellence in firefighting in First Nations, aside from your respective departments? Who else out there excels? Could you name five communities that you think do a fabulous job?

Mr. Lazare: I know of Six Nations; Chisasibi, which is northern Cree; and some of the Lower Nicola in B.C. Also, Akwesasne has an excellent fire department. Mind you, by their geographical location, they have access to FEMA dollars, so it is a different relationship.

Mr. Kent: Mr. Lazare has mentioned some of them. It has a lot to do with economic development within the community, because that trickles down and allows you to build a great fire department.

I have done fire investigations where some of our firefighters from our very small communities that train two or three times a year have done an excellent job in putting out a fire. It has surprised me, when I go and do a fire investigation, to see that ventilation was done correctly and everything was done correctly.

That is what I look at. It is absolutely great and surprising to me when I see it. But, in all honesty, we need more training; they need more — I will not say they need more tools and equipment, because they need the training before they get the tools and equipment so that they can use them properly.

As for great departments, Kahnawake is one that we look up to. Unfortunately, a lot of our remote communities not have the economic development in order to provide extra services for their communities.

I hate to single out some great communities when there are, even in our remote communities, great people in those communities — hard workers in those communities — but they just lack enough training, skills and funding, for whatever reason, to make it work. But the people there are dedicated. The chief and councillors — I talk to them all the time, and they call me all the time. They want better services; they are asking for them on a daily basis. Somehow we have to get together with the government and our elected officials and make it happen.

Senator Tannas: Fair enough.

Mr. de Hooge: If I may, there are a couple of things. Again, there is that partnership with AFAC and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs in terms of the horse power and the expertise that we can bring to the table.

You would be surprised to know that, nationally, there is no national fire statistics database that we participate in or any of the other areas — Toronto or the mini volunteer fire services. That is one of the initiatives that the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has been lobbying for and around which is starting to get some success. Probably my encouragement would be the opportunity to have a particular focus on First Nations communities is there and being that gatherer and repository of that database.

The Deputy Chair: I will ask a short question for the end of the session.

You have all talked about fire prevention, and you've mentioned smoke detectors as being one of the most effective means of preventing fires. How much does one good unit cost? I will compare that to what it costs to get vaccinated, for example. In Saskatchewan, we just had the scare over the H1N1 flu. Everyone was waiting in line to get vaccinated to prevent us from getting the flu, which is a slim chance but nevertheless a risk.

Mr. de Hooge: It is the price of a pack of cigarettes or tickets to a movie.

The Deputy Chair: Is that $20 or less?

Mr. de Hooge: Its can be $10, but it is a tool that, without the proper education in terms of its use — what to do when it activates and maintaining it — is ineffective.

The Deputy Chair: But it is a beginning in terms of looking at cost.

Mr. de Hooge: Absolutely, but there are many smoke alarms in place where people don't replace the battery.

The Deputy Chair: I don't know whether in the legislation you are thinking of there should be some mention of something like that or there should be some mention that the department, before it comes up, that this be something that they provide. For a three-bedroom bungalow, you are looking at three or four smoke detectors, which is only $30 or $40.

When I went to get vaccinated, I opted to go buy FluMist and it cost me $15. But there are thousands of Canadians getting vaccinated. I leave that as an analogy with respect to prevention.

I want to thank you on behalf of all the senators, and I thank the senators for their questions. This has been an enormously edifying session. With the legislative mandate, there is no legislation covering it. As you say, there is a desperate and critical need for something to be done. We have the emergent problem. At the end of March, HRSDC will no longer be conducting fire inspections, and someone needs to be in place so that Aboriginal Canadians are not put at risk beginning April 1.

We will suspend for an in camera meeting.

(The committee continued in camera.)