Hon. Lionel Chevrier (Minister of Transport):
Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the
report of the court of investigation into the circumstances of the destruction by fire of the S.S. Quebec off Tadoussac on August 14, 1950. Under the provisions of section 551 of the Canada Shipping Act, the Hon. Mr. Justice Fernand Choquette was appointed on August 18, 1950, as commissioner to investigate and report on the circumstances of the loss of the Quebec. He was assisted by two nautical assessors, Captain Antoine Fournier and Captain Jean-Charles Fraser, and by an engineering assessor, Mr. William Percival.
Counsel appeared for the Department of Transport, for Canada Steamship Lines, Limited, and their officers, and for one of the passengers. During the course of the nineteen hearings held in Quebec city, a total of fifty-two witnesses were heard by the court. Over one hundred exhibits were produced in support of the evidence.
Members will recall that on November 21, 1949, the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Howe) in my absence tabled the report of the formal investigation into the destruction by fire of the S.S. Noronic. Recommendations contained in the Noronic report resulted in the passenger steamships fire protection regulations being made. When these regulations were promulgated I stated that they would be implemented as far as practicable before the opening of the navigation season of 1950. In the case of the Quebec a very earnest effort was made by the owners to comply with these regulations, and the report indicates that there was considerable new equipment installed. However, due to lack of time, it was not possible for the owners to complete certain fireproof bulkheads and sprinkler systems which were required.
A study of the report reveals that the investigation gave ample opportunity for all persons having knowledge of the disaster to give evidence, as well as the officers and crew, and officials of the board of steamship inspection. All relevant documents were
submitted for the examination of the court and I think I may say without fear of contradiction that the investigation was searching, impartial, and thorough.
In his report the commissioner makes the following statement:
In the circumstances as revealed by the evidence, we are of the opinion that the board of steamship inspection and the Minister of Transport gave reasonable interpretation to section 11 of the regulations of 1950 in authorizing, under prescribed conditions, the issue of the certificate of seaworthiness.
Section 111 of the report, entitled "Origin and Cause of Fire", is most enlightening. The owners, in their representations, claimed that the fire was of an incendiary nature, and made available to the court the opinion of a consulting chemist, Mr. Hazen. It was generally conceded that the fire had its origin in the linen closet.
Expert evidence established to the satisfaction of the court that, having regard to the contents of the linen closet, spontaneous combustion was not possible, nor was it possible that the fire could have been caused inadvertently. Counsel for the Department of Transport expressed the opinion that there was strong presumptive evidence that the fire had been voluntarily set, and the court, in concurring, summed up by saying:
Mr. Hazen's evidence, considering the circumstances on which it is based and the circumstances in which the aero-electric fire alarm system did not function, does not leave us any alternative. Failing proof to the contrary, we have to hold that the fire on board the S.S. Quebec which occurred on August 14, 1950, off Tadoussac, was deliberately set by one or several individuals whose identity Is not established.
The procedure followed in formal investigations of this kind is for the Department of Transport to propound certain questions for the opinion of the court. For the information of the house I quote two of the questions and answers which are recorded in the report:
Question: What was the cause of the loss of the
Quebec, and the loss of life?
Answer: The Quebec was destroyed by fire, and, according to evidence which was not contradicted, fire was set deliberately by one or several persons whose identity has not been established, and the extinction of that fire was jeopardized by the fact that the aero-electric fire-alarm system was deliberately put out of order.
The cause of the loss of lives was asphyxia by carbon monoxide resulting from inhalation of smoke, as well as secondary charring.
Question: Were the loss of the Quebec and the
loss of life caused or contributed to by the wrongful act or default of the owners, Canada Steamship
Lines, Limited, Montreal; Captain Cyril Hunter Burch, the master, or by any other person or persons?
Answer: No. There were several individual
faults and omissions on the part of members of the crew to go to stations which were assigned to them; moreover, the lack of fire-fighting qualifications and training of the crew is obvious; but, in view of the nature of the fire and the fact that the aero-electric fire-alarm system was put out of order, the evidence does not permit to say positively and beyond all doubt that these defaults, omissions and insufficiencies contributed to the destruction of the ship and the loss of lives.
The commissioner made some six recommendations, the first having reference to personnel and' the others having reference to equipment. These recommendations will receive the immediate attention of the department.
With the full implementation of the passenger steamships fire protection regulations of 1950, which must be complied with before different types of ships are placed in commission for the season of 1951, the fire protection standards on Canadian vessels will be the highest required in any maritime nation, and the travelling public will be assured of the best possible protection.
On the orders of the day: