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Quebec calls public inquiry into fire that killed 32 at seniors' residence

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QUEBEC - The Quebec government has called a public inquiry into the fire that killed 32 people at a seniors' residence last January.

Public Security Minister Lise Theriault said Tuesday the coroner's findings would guide the government as it moves to limit the risks of such a tragedy reoccurring.

Theriault said the government has assigned coroner Cyrille Delage to oversee the public inquiry.

"The aim of the inquiry is to answer two basic questions: firstly, how did this tragedy happen and, secondly, what do we need to do to prevent anything similar ever happening again," Theriault told a news conference.

"The coroner's inquiry will determine the cause of death of each of the 32 victims and the origin and likely causes of the fire."

The coroner's office has not decided when or where the hearings will be held and Theriault gave no timeline for Delage's report to be submitted.

Roch Bernier, the co-owner of the Residence du Havre seniors' home in L'Isle-Verte, called for a public inquiry two weeks ago, but Theriault said that had nothing to do with her announcement.

Her comment was met with disbelief by Bernier's lawyer, Guy Bertrand, who said it was "not credible."

"Of course it was our request (that prompted the public inquiry)," Bertrand told a separate news conference from Theriault's. "Yes, the delay was too long, almost unacceptable, but it's better than nothing."

Bernier said people have a right to know the real story behind the Jan. 23 blaze.

"I am very satisfied," he said Tuesday. "I am speaking for myself and Madame Irene Plante, who is the co-owner (of the seniors' home). We want a fully-fledged public inquiry so Quebecers can find out what happened, from beginning to end. For us, it's important."

Bernier is part of a $3.8-million civil lawsuit against the town of L'Isle-Verte. The suit alleges the community failed to implement emergency plans which might have lowered the death toll.

An insurance company is also involved in the lawsuit and is seeking $2.3 million of the $3.8 million.

Investigations into the tragedy are already being carried out by Quebec provincial police and the fire commissioner.

Dominique Bertrand, the lawyer who is responsible for the civil proceedings, said she will ask a judge on Sept. 15 to suspend the case at least until Delage's report is tabled.

She said that would guarantee there would be no overlapping of resources.

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