Canadian Underwriter

Ontario paving the way for mandatory carbon monoxide detectors in all homes

November 27, 2013   by Maria Babbage - THE CANADIAN PRESS

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TORONTO – Ontario has passed legislation that will pave the way for carbon monoxide detectors to be mandatory in all homes in the province.

All three parties supported a private member’s bill introduced by Progressive Conservative Ernie Hardeman.

The Hawkins Gignac Act is named after members of a Woodstock family who died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2008.

carbon monoxide detectorFormer provincial police officer Laurie Hawkins, her husband Richard and both their children died from the deadly gas in their home, which didn’t have a CO detector.

Hardeman says the legislation allows the fire code to be changed so that all homes are required to have CO detectors, just like a smoke alarm.

He says carbon monoxide is a silent killer because it’s colourless, odourless and tasteless.

When inhaled, carbon monoxide inhibits the blood’s ability to absorb and transport oxygen throughout the body. Eventually, vital organs including the brain are deprived of oxygen and become damaged.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning range from nausea and headaches to more severe signs such as vomiting and unconsciousness.

It was a bittersweet day for members of the Hawkins and Gignac families who watched the debate in the legislature. One woman wiped away tears, while several politicians on the floor struggled to control their emotions as they spoke.

Yukon made carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in all residences last May. Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur said she hopes other provinces will follow now Ontario is taking similar action.

”Provinces always look at what their neighbours are doing,” she said before the final vote.

”So we take examples from elsewhere, and I hope that the action of the Ontario government today will convince other provinces to follow us.”

Hardeman has been pushing for the changes since 2008, but private member’s bills rarely become law unless they’re backed by the government.

People shouldn’t wait for a law before buying a carbon monoxide detector, he said.

”It’s the silent killer,” he said. ”You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, you can’t smell it. And so you won’t know it’s there until it’s too late.”

Hawkins’ uncle, John Gignac, said his niece would have been extremely happy that a new law is being created to protect Ontario residents from CO poisoning, he said.

”But it makes me feel sad that we couldn’t have gotten this done earlier and protected the people that have already been suffering from carbon monoxide,” he said.

Public awareness about CO poisoning has spread over the last five years, he said.

A former firefighter from Brantford, Ont., Gignac said his fire department was called out to suspected carbon monoxide leaks eight to ten times a week.

”Back then, it seemed to be something that slipped through the cracks, but now it’s very out in the open,” said Gignac, who’s making CO education his mission with the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation.

His 41-year-old niece, her 40-year-old husband Richard, her 14-year-old daughter Cassandra and 12-year-old son Jordan all died after a blocked chimney allowed carbon monoxide to seep into their home. They didn’t have a CO detector.

Hawkins was found alive by her police colleagues, but died eight days later.

Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of fatal poisonings in North America, according to the Canada Safety Council, an independent not-for-profit organization. In high concentrations, it can kill in minutes.

For weeks prior to their deaths, the family thought they were coming down with the flu, not realizing that they were being poisoned, Hardeman said.

Homes or apartments built before Aug. 6, 2001 – when the Ontario Building Code was amended – don’t have to have carbon monoxide detectors installed.

The new legislation expands the scope of the Fire Prevention and Protection Act to include unsafe levels of carbon monoxide, paving the way for a regulation change to require CO detectors in all homes.

It also allows fire departments to enforce the rules, just as they do with smoke detectors, Hardeman said.

A technical advisory committee will look at changing the fire code, said Meilleur.

Gignac said he’s going to work on the rest of Canada.

”We hope to save all people in Canada,” he said. ”But a big step forward is my home province of Ontario.”