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'We're coming for them': On 2nd anniversary of Winters Hotel fire, former tenants continue to fight for justice

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Wendy Gaspard recalls the terrifying moment she had to run for her life, escaping an inferno that destroyed her home and killed her neighbours Mary Ann Garlow and Dennis Guay.

“I look back, and it was horrifying what was behind me,” said Gaspard, who lived on the third floor of the Winters Hotel single-room occupancy (SRO) building.

“I didn’t have time to even go knock on their doors and I heard screaming, and it was horrifying, and it still haunts me today.”

Dozens gathered at the former site of the now torn-down building, and marched through downtown holding signs and chanting slogans demanding justice and better living conditions at SROs.

Earlier this year, a coroner’s inquest found several safety flaws in the building that contributed to the tragedy. 

One year ago, former tenant Jennifer Hansma filed a class-action lawsuit as the lead plaintiff against the non-profit property management company Atira, the City of Vancouver and Winters Residence Ltd.

“They need to accept responsibility for what they’ve done,” said Hansma, who says she expects the case to make it to court by September.

“Justice, to me, means that my cat didn’t die in vain. It means Mary and Dennis didn’t die in vain.”

Atira interim CEO Catherine Roome said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Ms. Garlow and Mr. Guay, as well as the former tenants and the community, who continue to remember and grieve for those lost. This tragedy has left its mark on the tenants, the community and the entire team at Atira who support them.”

The statement continues by saying Atira fully supports the 25 recommendations made by the jury in the coroner’s inquest and has already made several improvements to fire safety protocols.

Hansma did not provide a figure, but says she and the group are seeking financial compensation for items lost in the fire and emotional suffering.

“We’re coming for them. We’re going to get them,” said Hansma.  

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