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Rights + Justice

Inquest Ordered into Deadly Vancouver SRO Fire

Government seeks answers in the deaths of Mary Ann Garlow and Dennis Guay in April.

Jen St. Denis 21 Jul

Jen St. Denis is The Tyee’s Downtown Eastside reporter. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

There will be a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Mary Ann Garlow and Dennis Guay in a devastating fire at the Winters Hotel in Vancouver on April 11.

B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said in a press release today that he has directed a coroner’s inquest into the deaths.

The fire destroyed the 107-year-old building, a single-room occupancy hotel that housed 71 people with funding from BC Housing. The fire displaced another 73 tenants at the adjacent Gastown Hotel.

“Once the coroner’s investigation has gathered sufficient evidence, an inquest jury will hear from witnesses under oath and make findings regarding the facts of the deaths,” Farnworth said. “The jury may also make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.”

“Recommendations from the inquest into the Winters Hotel deaths could help prevent fires in single-room occupancy buildings and save lives,” Farnworth said.

The statement gave no timeline for the inquest to be held.

The number of fire-related deaths has risen dramatically in B.C. since 2020. Over the past 24 months, fatalities have risen by 119 per cent, according to B.C.’s Office of the Fire Commissioner.

The Winters Hotel was owned by Peter Plett and operated as supportive housing by Atira Property Management Inc., with funding from BC Housing.

On April 11, a fire started by a tenant who left candles in their room swiftly got out of control, leaving residents to scramble desperately through smoke-filled halls to get out of the building.

Because of a previous fire that had happened three days earlier, sprinklers and the building alarm were turned off and had to be serviced by a contractor before they could be reactivated.

A fire investigation report also found that some residents and building staff couldn’t find working fire extinguishers during the fire because they had not been replaced after they were used to fight the previous fire.

Mary Ann Garlow was a 68-year-old residential school survivor from the Oneida Nation. She had lived in the Downtown Eastside for decades, and had been devoted to caring for her son, John, who escaped from the fire by jumping from a fourth-storey window.

“She was very soft-spoken and quiet and gentle, but she had a good sense of humour,” Garlow’s niece, Misty Fredericks, previously told The Tyee. “She was a homebody, but she was always very helpful.”

Dennis Guay, 53, was deaf, but had taught himself to play the piano and guitar and had a huge passion for music.

“Dennis always saw the good in others,” said his sister, Kirsten Conforti. “He was sweet and kind in nature and had a smile for everyone. He was very soft-spoken. He would sit back and be the observer in the room. We love him dearly and he will be forever missed.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Housing

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