Evidence of meeting #82 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was fires.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Richard Kent  Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management
Peter Beatty  Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations
Blaine Wiggins  Executive Director, Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada
Arnold Lazare  President, Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada
Jeff Eustache  Manager, Forest Fuel Management Department, First Nations' Emergency Services Society
Curtis Dick  Fire Services Officer, First Nations' Emergency Services Society

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

What level of engagement has there been with the FireSmart program? How broad has the adoption been in Saskatchewan?

11:45 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

We have a lot of communities done, but we also have a lot of remote communities. There's a long way to go. We've been working with INAC's emergency manager, and they've been very supportive of the program. They can see that it's working. We can show that it's working. We have statistics to prove that it's working.

We're very pleased with what's been happening, but there's a long way to go. We have a lot of forest, and it does grow back, too.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

What are some things the department could do, in your opinion, to aid in further adoption of that program?

11:45 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

I think what the department can do, and I believe what the department is doing, is to listen to the experts in the field. Those are the people who are employed with Wildfire Management and with the Prince Albert Grand Council in forestry. We train the Wildfire Management people on, as the chief was mentioning, types one, two, and three. So listen to what the experts are telling you and try to follow their guidance.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Thank you.

Chief Beatty, your community has experienced wildfires and evacuations. Could you summarize what you feel are some of the lessons learned from that experience? What worked right this year? What went wrong? While there were challenges, not everything went wrong, obviously. Could you talk about some of the positive outcomes and some of the areas that need improvement?

11:45 a.m.

Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Peter Beatty

I'll start with the evacuations. Obviously, we mentioned what was wrong right off the top, but one of the things we appreciated was the communications we had later on in the process of the evacuations. We were able to talk to emergency management officials in the province. We also had Indigenous Affairs there with a representative, along with our own emergency operations centre personnel that we had set up. We took that initiative because of the experiences of other communities in prior years. We knew the importance of having that emergency operation centre staffed by personnel from the grand council. Richard was part of that, as well as our personnel from our own first nation.

The other thing we learned was that the policy of the province is really something we call the “let it burn” policy, although they don't have that on paper. In our view, in practice, that is what it is—letting it burn to a point that it becomes a threat and then you try to action it. We learned things like that, which need to be changed over the next few years.

As I said in my answer, with the extreme conditions we're running into now, year after year, in terms of climate change, we have to change that thinking. We need to rethink that whole fire management policy and how you manage fires that have the potential to threaten communities or infrastructure, like roads. One of the major arteries into northeast Saskatchewan, going to Creighton and Flin Flon from Prince Albert, was closed for almost the full length.

November 7th, 2017 / 11:45 a.m.

Liberal

TJ Harvey Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Just quickly, before I run out of time, we've talked a lot about first nations themselves, ensuring that the indigenous peoples within those communities play a very proactive role in the process all the way through. Whether it's through the Aboriginal Firefighters Association or through existing programs, what do you think some of the most important areas of focus should be in trying to encourage an increase in our level of knowledge and the level of input from indigenous people themselves into how these plans go forward?

11:50 a.m.

Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Peter Beatty

It's very important that we become engaged in any of those strategies to address emergencies, whether it's fires, flooding, or whatever. It is very important that we have input into any kind of management strategy for fires and the suppression of those fires.

Peter Ballantyne being such a large area, a lot of us in our communities have a lot of knowledge and experience in dealing with that, including emergency evacuations, and so on. There is valuable input that anyone can get from our communities, if only they would approach us and engage us in that process.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Very good.

Questioning now moves to MP Viersen.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair. I would like to give the committee notice of a motion that I would like to move at some point: that in the light of the interim report published by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on November 1, 2017, the challenges highlighted by the commissioners related to working with the Government of Canada and the Privy Council, and the commissioners' seven procedural recommendations, the committee invite the Privy Council Office to appear before this committee to respond.

Thank you for indulging me, guests.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

I'm sorry, that was a little procedural, and it was on a different topic.

MP Viersen.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

There are two areas I would like to go after a bit. Mr. Kent, you said early on in your presentation that the largest threat comes not from the fire but from the response to the fire. What would that threat look like? Is it loss of life? Could you flesh out what that threat is?

11:50 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

What we're talking about is the social impact on the community when we move people. As the chief was mentioning, we get out the priority one people: people with COPD, elders, those with diabetes. We move them out to a centre wherever we can. When I say “we”, it's the province that sets this up. Then priority two and priority three people start to move. We're starting to separate family units now, because one area is full and we've got to fill another. We really need to ensure the communities are looking after them, because they know which family units should be together. Those are the kinds of problems that we're seeing.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

It's basically getting to the point that in one of these events if there is a loss of life it's typically not directly due to the fire, it's due to one of these other scenarios. Would you agree with that?

11:50 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

Yes, we're not talking about the loss of life directly from a fire in that quote that I gave, but really there is a social impact on the community that in a lot of cases is greater than the impact of the actual emergency, the fire.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Beatty, you talked about being part of the discussion at the provincial table. One of the issues that we've heard about before is that individuals who live in the communities often don't really have a sense of what is going on and their only gateway to what is going on is through social media, and a lot of the times that information isn't necessarily good information. What has been your experience with getting that information out to your community members?

11:50 a.m.

Chief, Peter Ballantyne First Nation, Assembly of First Nations

Chief Peter Beatty

My experience is that, yes, there are a lot of social media messages that tend to differ greatly from what's really happening on the ground. In this instance, we provided information to those evacuees who were in the evacuation centres in the hotels. We had our personnel go there on a daily basis to give them information on how the fires were coming along, give them maps to look at, and also give them information on any services that they might need.

Also, I used MBC Radio, which is the Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation in northern Saskatchewan, to get that message out there as well.

Those are basically the things that we use to get that message, the correct information, to our evacuees.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

The questioning moves to MP Zahid.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Thanks to both the witnesses for coming out today.

My first question is in regard to adequate resources. I know that a first step toward ensuring emergency preparedness is to guarantee that a standard and adequate level of resources is available to the communities that are potentially threatened. Across Canada, do you think that the indigenous reserves have adequate resources on hand for fire protection and damage mitigation?

11:55 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

No, I don't believe we do at this time. We need to do a lot more training with the communities. We need to do enough training with the communities so that they can run any type of emergency, whether it's a house fire, a forest fire, or evacuations. We need to ensure that they get the training, they get people trained in information services, because, as was mentioned, there's a lot on Facebook and Twitter and everybody saying, “your house burned” or “your cabin burned”. We need to ensure the communities know how to set up proper lines of communication, how to get it out there, how to run emergencies, where to put people, how to put them in culturally sensitive areas, and how to go about dealing with provincial and federal governments. The training and the building of capacity within our communities are needed.

The days should be gone where we declare a local state of emergency, and then we just stand back and let the provincial and federal governments come in and look after it. They're perfectly capable of looking after themselves. We need to provide them the tools and the training to do it, because nobody can look after their community better than their own community.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Is there a standard for a minimum of resources to be made available to each community? Do we have any standard laid down?

11:55 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

Not really, because we're talking about different emergencies. In different emergencies you need all sorts of different equipment.

What I like to use instead of a standard list is what we call an “adequate” list. Let's not meet this certain basic standard. Let's meet the adequate standard to look after our communities.

So really, there isn't. We have provincial emergencies acts and fire acts, but they don't apply to first nations communities. Hopefully, through this indigenous fire marshal's office we can look at creating those—a fire act, an emergencies act—so that they apply to first nations communities.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Whatever resources are available, how can we educate the communities to make sure they know that in case of a fire, these are the resources available to them? What is the process they would go through?

11:55 a.m.

Commissioner, Emergency and Protective Services, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management

Richard Kent

Again, I think the process would be tied closely to this indigenous fire marshal's office. It's really there to gather a lot of data.

We know we have a lot of equipment within our first nations. For example, we have coach buses within some first nations that we're offering the chief. We have a lot of equipment within first nations that we can share within first nations, but not only within first nations. We all want to be good neighbours. We want to share it with all of our neighbours, whether they are first nations or not. We should all be working together.

We need to collect that data of what's available and when. This is another example of why an office like that is needed, to get all the data housed in one area so that we have one place to go to find out what's available.