Statement by Ministers Committing to On-going Engagement with First Nations Affected by Wildfires in British Columbia and Additional Resources to Advance Emergency Response Measures
Ottawa, Ontario (July 11, 2021) – Statement
The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services and the Honourable Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport, today released the following statement in regards to the wildfires in British Columbia.
“Over the past few days, representatives from the Government of Canada and British Columbia have regularly met with a number of First Nation leaders. Discussions have focussed on the emergency response, and how we can work together to improve the response and preparedness process.
We heard clear concerns regarding safe rail operations and are taking immediate actions to address them. On Friday, July 9, 2021, Transport Canada issued a Ministerial Order to cease movement of trains between Kamloops and Boston Bar, British Columbia for 48 hours. This was done in the interest of safe railway operations and to protect residents who temporarily returned to inspect their homes. This action also allowed space for important and timely discussions with First Nation leaders. Transport Canada is committed to building on these recent discussions with Indigenous leadership and local communities to develop a sustained structured process for engagement and consultations on issues related to rail safety and the impacts of rail operations on communities.
Issued on July 11, 2021, a new Ministerial Order from Transport Canada requires railways to take precautionary measures to further protect against wildfires in the context of extreme weather conditions – due to climate change. It includes targeted speed restrictions, increased equipment inspections, and staging and deployment of additional fire prevention equipment for more rapid response to any fire along the right of way, as well as additional fire detection and reporting requirements.
Additionally, Transport Canada invited affected First Nation leaders to participate in a demonstration of a rail safety inspection with Transport Canada rail safety experts. In the coming days the Government of Canada, along with Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP), will continue to engage on additional actions and will be organizing additional briefs.
There are a number of investigations ongoing into the tragic Lytton area fire, led by the following agencies: BC Wildfire Services, BC Coroner’s Office, the RCMP, and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. We recognize the importance of trust and confidence in these investigations. Given the independence of these agencies from the governments of Canada and British Columbia, Indigenous Services Canada encourages them to include processes where First Nation and local government voices are heard.
To address other concerns of First Nation leaders, the Government of Canada, working with the Province of British Columbia, is committed to:
- Continuing to work with First Nation leaders on concrete steps in the short term to improve the emergency response process, especially around increasing communication and coordinating communication during emergencies.
- Immediately funding initial supports directly to affected households to help them get through this challenging time. We also acknowledge the importance of mental health supports and will work with First Nations, and in partnership with the First Nations Health Authority, to identify how best to meet these needs.
- Recognizing the expertise of the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society (FNESS), by providing support to the Society for immediate surge capacity to deliver greater emergency response and preparedness, such as FireSmart programming, which is especially important since the risk of wildfires remains. Specifically, through its Emergency Management Assistance Program, Indigenous Services Canada will also provide a requested $1.8 million in additional funding to FNESS to increase the ability of this experienced emergency management partner to respond to this wildfire season. Indigenous Services Canada will also provide requested funding of $248,000 to the First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC), to be divided equally among the member organizations (the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit and Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs) to address immediate response needs for the 2021 wildfire season.
- Supporting affected First Nations to identify and address the infrastructure needs resulting from damages sustained during the wildfires. Public Safety Canada stands ready to support efforts to move forward on emergency preparedness, especially for First Nations that are at risk in the immediate fire season. The Government of Canada is committed to working with First Nations to focus on proactive prevention efforts to build back better with a view on how to better prepare for the kinds of wildfires risks seen already.
- Developing a longer-term partnership approach that recognizes the benefits and expertise of First Nation leadership and FNESS in emergency management, preparedness and response moving toward a tripartite agreement on emergency management in BC.
We want to recognize First Nation leaders and organizations for the care and dedication focused on their communities; in particular, we hold our hands up to First Nations who have taken in evacuees and are caring for them as family. The Government of Canada is committed to working with First Nation leaders and provincial partners to advance emergency response measures in the short term and long term for better outcomes.
We are committed to ongoing discussions and engagements directly with First Nations leaders in response to the wildfires in British Columbia, and to strengthening the important relationship with Indigenous peoples. We are committed to working to advance a shared path to reconciliation and to renew the relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on the affirmation of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. It is important that we find new ways of working together so we can build a path forward together.”
For more information, media may contact:
Office of the Honourable Marc Miller
Minister of Indigenous Services
Indigenous Services Canada
Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Public Safety Canada
Senior Communications Advisor and Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Omar Alghabra
Minister of Transport, Ottawa
Transport Canada, Ottawa
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