Canada

Kashechewan fire inquest calls for more funds for police stations, training

A coroner's jury looking into the deaths of two aboriginal men in a fire at an isolated northern Ontario reserve's police station three years ago has called for more federal and provincial funding to improve First Nation police and fire services training and facilities.

A coroner's jury looking into the deaths of two aboriginal men in a fire at an isolated northern Ontario reserve's police station three years ago has called for more federal and provincial funding to improve First Nations police facilities and officers' training.

Ricardo Wesley, 22, and James Goodwin, 20, burned to death on Jan. 8, 2006, while being held for public intoxication at the ramshackle Kashechewan First Nation police detachment.

Among its 80 recommendations made in a report released on Thursday in Toronto, the five-member jury called on the Ontario and federal governments to provide the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service the funds needed to ensure its policing standards and infrastructure are equivalent to those in non-First Nations communities.

The jury's report also recommends Ontario and Ottawa should also provide adequate money for annual fire inspections of all Nishnawbe-Aski Nation police stations, as well as additional fire response training for officers.

During the inquest, the jury previously heard the Kashechewan police station lacked a working smoke detector, fire extinguisher and sprinkler when the fire — believed to have been set by one of the men inside the holding cell — rapidly tore through the dilapidated building.

Police frantically tried to free the two men before the building was engulfed in flames but could not unlock their cells and had to flee, leaving the two men to die. An officer was also injured while trying to open the cell doors.

The jury previously heard that for years, reports were sent by the local police and community leaders asking that improvements be made to the jail, but the requests were never granted.

As many as 19 Nishnawbe-Aski police detachments do not meet national building code standards and do not have sprinkler systems installed, the jury found. 

Any holding cells that fail to meet national fire inspection standards should not be used, report said.

The jury also recommends the province and Ottawa work together with First Nations to develop "flexible, innovative and effective" responses to the problems posed by alcohol and drug abuse in First Nations communities. 

Located about 10 kilometres upstream from James Bay on the Albany River, the Kashechewan First Nation gained national prominence four years ago when the federal government ordered the evacuation of the reserve after E. coli was found in the water supply.

The community of some 1,700 people is linked to the outside world only by an ice road in the winter and by plane the rest of the year.

Its problems with water quality prompted an evacuation in 2005, and the population has been forced to leave another four times since 2005 because of spring flooding.

With files from The Canadian Press