Patty Hajdu 'open' to legislating fire codes on First Nations, but cost is a factor

OTTAWA — Federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu says she remains "open" to legislating fire and building codes on First Nations, even though Ottawa has no plans to do so now.

Fires have long posed a threat to people living on-reserve, with inadequate housing and a lack of smoke detectors increasing the risk.

Experts and federal officials say there is no way to enforce building or fire code standards on First Nations.

Communities can pass their own bylaws, but groups like the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada and Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs have long pushed for legislation that would make them mandatory.

Hajdu's office has previously said that after consulting with Indigenous leadership, her department decided that bringing in a new law "would not be the best approach at this time."

On Thursday, she said she remains open to the idea but there must be "sustained funding" and capacity in communities.

Asked whether she would seek the necessary funding to implement such a change, Hajdu provided a general answer that, as minister, she will keep advocating for the money to close the socio-economic gaps on First Nations by 2030.

"What I have learned in the last year as the minister of Indigenous Services is that legislation alone will never fix a problem on First Nations."

The National Indigenous Fire Safety Council Project has pointed to a 2021 Statistics Canada study that it commissioned, which found Indigenous people living on-reserve were 10 times more likely to die in a fire.

Len Garis, the council's research director, said it's absolutely clear the situation calls for some form of regulation or legislation.

"The 'how' is a different story," he said Thursday.

"(That) is going to be incredibly important because Indigenous people will want to have influence over how and what's being brought in place."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press