The perils of carbon monoxide

by / / electrical stories


For Christmas 2008, everyone in John Gignac’s family got a carbon monoxide detector.

The gift was a sad reminder of a very recent tragedy – John’s niece, Oxford County OPP constable Laurie Hawkins, along with her husband Richard and their two children Cassandra and Jordan, died earlier in the month after a poorly vented fireplace filled their home with carbon monoxide.

John, who will be speaking at three FREE Home Hazards Seminars sponsored by Birnie CurrentSAFE this Fall, went on to found the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education so he could spread the word to an even broader audience.


I know it’s a very ambitious endeavour because you’ll never get everybody, but hopefully we’ll get all Canadians aware of the carbon monoxide gas and have them put a CO alarm in their house.

John Gignac


John’s foundation works to do this in two ways.

  • It raises funds to purchase CO detectors for municipal fire departments, which distribute the detectors to homes in the community where they’re most needed. So far, John says the foundation has given 500 alarms to Brantford (where John lives) and Brant County.
In the coming weeks, they’ll give 300 to Parry Sound, 250 to Oshweken and 200 to St. Mary’s.


The second thing the foundation does is educate.

  • In 2012, John spent more than 600 hours travelling across Canada to places like Vancouver, Whitehorse, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary and North Bay, trying to convince local governments to pass bylaws making CO detectors mandatory.

John says Brantford is one of 50 or 60 Ontario communities that already has a bylaw stating every home must have one CSA-approved alarm located outside the bedroom. The fine for non-adherence is $500. By his last count, 70 per cent of Brantford residents had CO detectors.

Mississauga has its own bylaw, stating all homes containing fuel-fired appliances (this includes furnaces, refrigerators, clothes dryers, gas ranges and more) must have a CO detector.

Laurie Hawkins’ hometown of Woodstock had drafted a bylaw shortly after Laurie’s death, but it was shelved when Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman introduced a similar private members’ bill that would have made CO detectors mandatory throughout Ontario. The Hawkins-Gignac Act was introduced three times, but failed each time due to prorogation. John says he’s still pushing towards a bylaw that will see detectors in all Woodstock homes.

In an ideal world, people would have a detector on every floor of the house, but John would be thrilled to see them start with just one.


 The earlier the detection the better because carbon monoxide is cumulative. You don’t want to have exposure to it at all if at all possible, but everybody has carbon monoxide in their bodies because of the exhaust fumes they’re breathing outside.

John Gignac

He says you can live with seven or eight parts carbon monoxide in your body, but if you’re exposed to a huge amount of it in the home, the way his niece was, you’ll succumb to the gases more quickly.

Fortunately, as with smoke alarms, CO detectors have become easier and more affordable over the years. You can now find them for anywhere from $20 to $50. The newer models have a 10-year warranty. The batteries never have to be changed.

As far as John’s concerned, it’s a no-brainer. He’d love to see a CO detector law passed at the federal or provincial level, but he’s working towards municipal bylaws first.

On an even smaller scale, he’s working towards converting one house at a time. Nearly 80 per cent of his friends, family and acquaintances have alarms.

 I throw a pebble in the water and in my circle alone, everybody in my family now has a CO alarm and everybody that’s a friend of my family has a CO alarm. I’m not going to be happy until everybody is aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide and has a carbon monoxide detector in their home.

John Gignac



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