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Mandatory CO detector bill up for final vote

Nov. 27, 2013, Toronto - Legislation that would make carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in all Ontario homes is up for final vote today.

November 27, 2013
By The Canadian Press

Progressive Conservative MPP Ernie Hardeman's private member's bill has finally reached the finish line with support from all parties after several tries.

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

Former 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.

Hawkins' uncle, John Gignac, says while he's happy that the bill will likely pass, he wishes it could have been done sooner and saved lives.

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Health Canada says carbon monoxide is colourless, odourless and tasteless, and hard to spot without a detector.

Public awareness about carbon monoxide poisoning has spread over the last five years, said Gignac.

As a former firefighter and fire captain in Brantford, Ont., he 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.

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

Gignac said the whole family would have been extremely happy about the prospect of a new law protecting Ontario residents from CO poisoning.

"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.

It's 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.

"At least with smoke, if you're awake you know it's smoke and you leave the house,'' he said.

"Carbon monoxide, you can't smell it, you can't see it, you can't taste it. So it's completely the silent killer.''

The Ontario legislation requires owners of residential buildings in which a fuel-burning appliance is installed or have a storage garage to install carbon monoxide detectors and maintain them.

Intentionally disabling a carbon monoxide detector would be prohibited.

Homes or apartments built before Aug. 6, 2011 — when the Ontario Building Code was amended — don't have to have carbon monoxide detectors installed. The new bill would require a battery operated or plugged in detector for those residences.

The bill was improved to ensure the rules would be enforced — same as smoke detectors — by including it in the Fire Prevention and Protection Act, Hardeman said.

Yukon made carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in all residences last May.

"We hope to save all people in Canada,'' said Gignac. "But a big step forward is my home province of Ontario. Get those people protected and then we're going to work on the rest of Canada.''