Activists call for coroner's inquiry
- Activists call for coroner's inquiry
By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun
January 10, 2011
More than 100 people packed a small east Vancouver church Saturday afternoon to remember three homeless men killed in a fire on Pandora Street, and to call for a wider inquiry into their deaths.
Garland McKay, Dwayne Rasmussen and Steven Yellowquill died on Dec. 22 after a faulty electrical cord connected to an old set of Christmas lights started a fire that engulfed their home at 2862 Pandora St. The men had been sleeping on the back porch of the house. A fourth man, Joseph (Bud) Barker survived but remains in hospital.
"We want to focus public attention on these deaths not only for their own sake but for the public policies they represent," said Rider Cooey of the Citywide Housing Coalition.
"While the fire was started by faulty wiring, the deaths were caused because these people were living and sleeping on a back porch."
Cooey and several other Downtown Eastside activists called Saturday for a coroner's inquest into the three deaths, noting this would require testimony from the city, building owner and former tenants and could lead to steps being taken to prevent similar tragedies.
"People were living in this so-called flophouse and yet we have an entire Olympic village empty," said Dave Diewert of Streams of Justice. "This is an absurdity.
"These are people with a rich life experience; these are people to be honoured."
Friends and neighbours of the three men who packed the small United Church Longhouse Council of Native Ministry on Franklin Street remembered the friends as funny, lovable and generous people who could often be seen hanging out under the cedar tree across the road, or helping out their friends.
"They were very special," said Betty Traverse. "They'd be smiling and laughing and saying hi to people. They were very good men and sometimes people don't understand that."
Rasmussen, whose ashes sat in front of the mourners, was nicknamed "Little D" but was described as having the heart of a giant. He welcomed everyone as a brother, sister or cousin -- dubbing Tobias Chobotuck his "great white nephew" -- and giving everyone a hug. When someone noted he was never seen in a bad mood, murmurs of assent could be heard through the church.
"I miss him so much," said Chobotuck. "What a loss, man, what a waste."
McKay was described as outwardly quiet but generous and kind. One friend remembered how he cried when they had to give a pet rabbit to the SPCA because they had no home for it. Yellowquill, who was buried in Surrey Tuesday, loved to work out and never judged anyone.
"I got so hammered one night they put me in a shopping cart and pushed me home because I couldn't walk. I'll never forget that," said Gordie Saddleman. Sandra Todd brought a bouquet of bright flowers in honour of the men, saying they were "just like spring." She suggested a bench be placed under the cedar tree or by the church with a plaque to remember them.
Pastor Barry Morris said they will look into installing a bench.
But he said the biggest issue is to ensure people have an affordable, accessible place to live and echoed the call for a public coroner's inquiry into the deaths.
"Was this a tragedy waiting to happen; just by the nature of it being an old house and dilapidated?" he asked.
"The question of getting in affordable and adequate housing is not easy."
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