Ontario foundation donates carbon monoxide alarms

The Yukon government doesn't want to consider carbon monoxide regulations until it's sure the odourless gas caused the recent deaths of five Whitehorse residents.

The Yukon government doesn’t want to consider carbon monoxide regulations until it’s sure the odourless gas caused the recent deaths of five Whitehorse residents, but it was willing to arrange the donation of 200 carbon monoxide detectors to the Whitehorse Food Bank this week.

“The coroner did rule that her preliminary finding was carbon monoxide,” said Dennis Berry, the Yukon’s fire marshal. “But ultimately, you are responsible for your own safety in your own homes. We are encouraging Yukoners to ensure that they have safety devices in their home.”

Berry hasn’t yet finished his investigation. It is focused on the oil-lit boiler heating system in the Rusk family’s rented Porter Creek home. The bodies of Bradley and Valerie Rusk, their children, Rebekah and Gabriel, and their boarder, Donald McNamee, 47, were discovered on Jan. 29.

The Yukon government is waiting for Berry’s final report, and the toxicology results, which aren’t expected until the end of the month, before moving on the issue.

“There’s a real motivation to look at all of the findings coming in,” said Cathrine Morginn, spokesperson for Department of Community Services, last Thursday.

“When we are able to look at the final reports of all of the different pieces together, it will be at that time that we will be able to say what is the best course of action in terms of any kind of changes to legislation or policy or that kind of thing. It’s too soon for us to comment without having seen those reports.”

The government made no further comment during a news conference on Tuesday where the Ontario-based Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education donated 200 carbon monoxide detectors to the territory.

And it also still refuses to comment on why recommendations from its own investigations have just been put on the shelf.

In 2007 and 2008, the Yukon Housing Corporation commissioned two studies on widespread safety issues with oil-lit heating equipment in Yukon homes.

The 2008 report ended with a list of nine major safety concerns, including a gross lack of monitoring and maintenance and “no indication that the installers or service technicians are trained and qualified as licensed oil burner mechanics.”

The report concluded that many of the problems found, particularly with installation, were “significant concerns that either posed imminent hazard or could reasonably be expected to develop into a problem in the future.”

John Matheson, a certified oil-burner mechanic, who works for Matheson Oil Burner Service in Whitehorse, pointed out the lack of regulation in his industry in the wake of the Rusk-McNamee tragedy.

“It’s scary,” he said. “You don’t have to be licensed to do what I do (in the Yukon). And way too much stuff is getting passed in city inspections. I’m not pointing fingers. It’s a safety issue.”

Matheson regularly finds new heating equipment improperly hooked up to old chimneys, which can cause the chimney to freeze up, back up and send carbon monoxide-filled exhaust back into homes, he said.

That is exactly what caused the deaths of John Gignac’s niece, her husband and two teenage children in Ontario in December 2008.

Like the Rusk family, Gignac’s relatives stayed home from work and school because they weren’t feeling well.

Gignac, a former firefighter and founder of the foundation, promised he would dedicate the rest of his life to making sure a tragedy like that never happened again.

“My purpose is simple: to warn Canadians about the danger of carbon monoxide and to convince them to install CSA-approved carbon monoxide alarms in their homes,” Gignac said in a statement.

“I would also like to see governments, all the way up to Ottawa, make carbon monoxide alarms mandatory in all homes regardless of age.

“We cannot change what has happened but we can learn from it and make sure these and other lives lost will not be in vain.”

The food bank will distribute the donated detectors to families who may not be able to afford the expense. No plans have been made yet to distribute any of the detectors into the communities.

More information on carbon monoxide can be found on the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation’s website: www.endthesilence.ca

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at