PRIVATE MEMBERS’ PUBLIC BUSINESS — THE HAWKINS-GIGNAC ACTOctober 31, 2013
Mr. Ernie Hardeman:
I’m pleased to rise to once again speak to the Hawkins Gignac Act. This bill would save lives and prevent tragedies by requiring carbon monoxide detectors in Ontario homes.
First, I want to recognize and thank those who are in the gallery today to support this issue. Matt Hiraishi and Doug DeRabbie are here from the Insurance Bureau of Canada. The Insurance Bureau of Canada has been very helpful in getting the message this far. We also have the 1st Ingersoll Girl Guides, who are here to help raise awareness for the act. Also, John Gignac, founder of the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education, is here in attendance. The Hawkins-Gignac Foundation works to increase awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide and helps purchase and distribute detectors to fire departments across the country. I’ve worked closely with John over the past five years and would like to thank him for his support of this bill and for all his efforts to raise awareness on the issue. Thank you, John.
John created a foundation after his niece Laurie Hawkins and her young family were poisoned by carbon monoxide after the exhaust of their gas fireplace was blocked, filling their home with poisonous gas. Sadly, our community lost Laurie and Richard Hawkins and their two children, 14-year-old Cassandra and 12-year-old Jordan, in this tragedy. This tragic event may have been prevented if they had had a functioning carbon monoxide detector.
Laurie, a community relations officer with the OPP, was a valued member of our community, particularly through her role with local schools, teaching the VIP program—values, influences and peers. Laurie’s profound impact on the children was recognized when the Thames Valley District School Board named a new school in Ingersoll in her memory.
Richard Hawkins was an accomplished hockey player and continued to show his passion for the game as a coach for the local hockey team. He was both a dedicated father and an active member of the community.
Cassandra was a grade 9 student. She was a member of the justice league and enjoyed figure skating and swimming.
Jordan, just 12, was working as a local paper boy. He played hockey and loved all outdoor activities, including fishing and camping.
For weeks prior to the family falling ill, they thought they had come down with the flu. That is what makes carbon monoxide so dangerous, Mr. Speaker. It is colourless, odourless and has no taste. As a result, the carbon monoxide’s early symptoms were nearly impossible to detect. The symptoms can include headaches, fatigue and dizziness, all similar to the flu. The family had no idea they were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The gas can be produced by any fuel-burning appliance. These are potential sources present in most homes: water heaters, furnaces, gas stoves, space heaters, and even our garages where we warm up our cars in the winter. Without a carbon monoxide detector, there is no way of knowing if you are at risk.
Sadly, these tragedies are still occurring. Two months ago, an elderly couple in Burk’s Falls was found unconscious in their home due to carbon monoxide poisoning and were rushed to the hospital. Luckily the woman was saved, but the man perished. The couple did not have a CO detector in their home.
Due to the countless tragedies like this one, I once again stand before this Legislature to ask for support for the Hawkins Gignac Act. I first introduced this bill in 2008, shortly after the tragic loss of the Hawkins family. The bill passed second reading and was referred to the committee, but prorogation stopped the bill from proceeding further. In fact, I reintroduced the Hawkins Gignac Act three more times, only to see it die on the order paper because of prorogation each time.
Since the initial introduction of the Hawkins Gignac Act in 2008, I have worked closely with many different people and organizations about the need for carbon monoxide detectors, and I want to thank everyone who shared their thoughts and suggestions on the bill. All this work has led to today. Today, I ask for support to ensure that the Hawkins Gignac Act passes not only second reading, but through the committee and third reading as well.
This bill is long overdue, Mr. Speaker. Currently, the law surrounding carbon monoxide detectors is almost non-existent. CO alarms are only required in homes built after August 2001. This provision does not allow for continued enforcement by fire departments or even require that a detector be functioning properly after initial inspection. The Hawkins Gignac Act will allow the government to replicate existing laws governing smoke alarms for carbon monoxide detectors.
I believe detectors are essential in all homes with fuel-burning appliances or attached garages. CO detectors are a simple solution to a devastating problem.
In 2009, Dr. Andrew McCallum, the chief coroner of Ontario at the time, recommended that carbon monoxide detectors be made mandatory on every level of all homes. Carbon monoxide detectors save lives. The Ontario fire marshal agrees. During Fire Prevention Week earlier this month, the Ontario fire marshal spoke to the importance of CO detectors: “Carbon monoxide alarms are critical life safety devices. They detect the presence of smoke and deadly gas and provide those precious seconds for occupants to escape. Everyone needs to have one in their home.” The detectors themselves range in price but are available for $20 to $25, a small price to pay to save a life.
The people of Ontario have embraced the 1997 law requiring smoke detectors on every level of their homes. I truly hope that the people recognize the need for similar provision for carbon monoxide detectors. While there have been many preventable CO-related tragedies since the first introduction of this bill in 2008, I have also received many letters from a number of people whose lives were saved by carbon monoxide detectors.
In fact, the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association has even brought to my attention the added benefit of this bill for Ontario firefighters and medical personnel. Imagine that a 911 call comes in because someone is unconscious. When the emergency personnel arrive, they have no reason to suspect carbon monoxide poisoning without the alarm from a functioning CO detector. What seems like purely a safety issue for the homeowner can easily put Ontario’s first responders in harm’s way. A carbon monoxide detector may not only save the life of the homeowner, but it could also protect our emergency personnel.
Thankfully, many municipalities in the province, including South West Oxford and Ingersoll in my riding of Oxford, have passed local bylaws requiring carbon monoxide detectors in homes with fuel-burning appliances or an attached garage. These municipal bylaws have resulted in countless stories from families who have been saved because of the installation of a carbon monoxide alarm.
Just last month, a downtown Hamilton triplex was evacuated after high levels of carbon monoxide were detected. Luckily, no one was injured. Without the CO detector in place, the results could have been tragic.
The municipalities are taking a step in the right direction, but a handful of municipalities are not enough. Do we only want Ontario families to have protection from carbon monoxide if they live in certain towns? Even with the efforts of these municipalities, over 250 Ontarians have perished from carbon monoxide poisoning in the last 15 years, excluding suicides. I commend these municipalities for their work, but it is apparent that those bylaws don’t replace a provincial law. All Ontario families should be protected against the dangers of carbon monoxide.
But each of these municipal bylaws places different requirements on landlords and homeowners. The different rules in different municipalities create unnecessary red tape and confusion. Our goal should be to create one law that’s easy to understand and to comply with. The easier it is to protect Ontarians, the better.
This is why we need to move forward with the Hawkins Gignac Act. Despite the increasing awareness stemming from these tragedies and from the work of groups like the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, this issue is not going away.
I mentioned the Girl Guides earlier. This past March, a Girl Guides troop from Ingersoll, who are in the gallery today, experienced their own carbon monoxide scare. While camping for the weekend in a cabin near Princeton, Ontario, the group evacuated the cabin after the carbon monoxide alarm went off. It turns out that the stove had a faulty pilot light, causing carbon monoxide to seep into the cabin. Luckily, no one was hurt.
Troop leader Amy Boddy was so moved by the experience that she wrote to me saying, “We tested the CO detector when we arrived at the cabin, but without it having been there, I’m confident we would not have survived the weekend.” I am happy that they are all safe and want to thank them for attending today.
The potential for more of these tragedies continues to rise as Ontarians become more concerned with the environment and rising energy prices. Because of these reasons, creating an airtight home is becoming more common. Replacing drafty windows may reduce heating costs, but it can also increase the levels of carbon monoxide in the home. Again, since carbon monoxide can’t be detected without a functioning alarm, it is clear that these tragedies will continue to occur without the passage of the proper legislation.
In fact, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs has written that, “Hundreds of Canadians are hospitalized every year from carbon monoxide poisoning, many of whom are permanently disabled. Everyone is at risk—88% of all homes have something that poses a carbon monoxide threat.”
It’s apparent that carbon monoxide is an urgent issue that needs to be dealt with. The solution was described well by the leading injury prevention association in Canada, Parachute, when they wrote, “Every Ontario family deserves to be safe in their home. Carbon monoxide alarms are an easy solution and can prevent tragic outcomes.”
The worst part of the tragedy caused by carbon monoxide exposure is that these tragedies are preventable. I’m pleased to say that, over the past five years, Ontarians have become more aware of the need for carbon monoxide detectors in their homes and have installed detectors in many cases. But there are still far too many people at risk. I want to encourage everyone who is listening today, here and at home, not to wait for the legislation to pass but to make sure that they and their loved ones have carbon monoxide detectors in their homes as soon as possible.
Working together, this Legislature can prevent more unnecessary carbon-monoxide-related tragedies. With your support for the Hawkins Gignac Act, we can raise awareness of the issue, move this bill forward to committee and help ensure its passage to protect Ontario families from the dangers of carbon monoxide.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to bring the bill forward.
Mr. Ernie Hardeman (Closing Remarks): I do want to thank all the members of the Legislature who spoke so strongly in favour of this bill. It’s obviously reassuring that we have been on the right track for some time now.
I did also want to thank the people who came here today, but particularly the group of Girl Guides who came here. First of all, their coming here is part of their education to see how government in Ontario works, but more importantly, they are an example of the benefits of having a detector.
If it wasn’t for them having a detector, they may not have been able to be here. I’m just sitting here wishing that more people had done it so a lot of these tragedies that have happened could have been avoided if we’d had this law 10 years ago. I’m very happy that it got this far.
The member from Oakville spoke about going to committee and getting the public involved and getting the involvement of all the stakeholders to make sure we’re doing the right thing. I think in this bill, we have done a very good job of that because we have obviously been doing that consulting now for five years.
We have here a list of the organizations, the stakeholders, that one would be talking to: the Ontario fire marshal; the fire chief for the city of Woodstock; the fire chief for the town of Ingersoll; the acting deputy chief for the city of Brampton; the former fire chief of the city of Toronto Fire Services; the Co-operators Group; David Thomson, past president of the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario; the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs; and then, of course, John Gignac, whom we’ve been working with the whole five years; the Fire Marshal’s Public Fire Safety Council; the city of Toronto’s emergency services; the Insurance Bureau of Canada; Parachute Canada; and Duracell Canada.
These are all organizations that we have been consulting with. Every one of them has given us written support for this bill, recognizing that it is that important that we put a carbon monoxide detector in every home in the province of Ontario for the safety of the residents of Ontario.