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Police find 6th and 7th bodies inside site of Old Montreal fire

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Police say they have found the sixth and seventh bodies inside a building in Old Montreal that burned down 11 days ago and do not expect find any more victims.

The last two victims' bodies were sent to a pathologist for formal identification. With the death toll now at seven, police said now they can focus their efforts on finding the cause of the deadly March 16 fire. 

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Insp. David Shane and Montreal fire operations chief Martin Guilbault also revealed the identities of four more victims.

They are 31-year-old neuroscientist An Wu, childhood friends Dania Zafar and Saniya Khan, both 31 years old, and 35-year-old Nathan Sears, who had a PhD in political science from the University of Toronto. The coroner has previously identified the first fire victim as Camille Maheux, 76, a renowned Montreal photographer.

Guilbault confirmed Monday that police officers had been dispatched Friday to at least one other building belonging to Emile-Haim Benamor, the owner of the building that caught fire March 16. Police said the officers were there for about seven hours.

Guilbault did not specify exactly why the officers were sent, but he said it's not uncommon for the fire department to call on the police to help protect and secure a building.

The heritage building that was gutted by the fire was built in 1890 has been unsafe for fire crews to enter. Chief Guilbault said that over the weekend, crews were able to secure some of the walls of the building to avoid them collapsing on fire service workers.

Since Saturday, search crews have been assisted by two volunteer dogs — a Border Collie and a German Shepherd — who "helped us locate the last three victims found Saturday and today," Guilbault said.  The dogs were brought in from the non-profit organization, the Association québécoise des bénévoles en recherche et sauvetage.

The fire chief said they could not use the search dogs earlier in their investigation because of the "risk of collapse."

Crews will continue their search with the help of a dog handler to ensure there are no more victims in the building.

Some of the victims had rented units in the building on the Airbnb platform, which was prohibited from allowing hosts to rent short-term rentals in the area due to a city bylaw.

Airbnb has since announced it would remove all listings in Quebec from its platform that don't have a permit from the province.

The fire department said on the day after the fire, it conducted a safety blitz in the area where the building was located to ensure residents had functioning smoke detectors and clear exits. "We used the fact that we had a fire to encourage people to think [of] prevention," Guilbault said.

VICTIMS MOURNED, HONOURED

People who knew the victims are sharing their grief as more identities are confirmed.

Dania Zafar is being remembered for her creativity and commitment to education. She worked at Ignite Publishing for four years, according to the company’s CAO.

“Dania was truly family to us, and her passion, ingenuity, compassion, and friendship will be truly missed,” said Carolina Gold in a statement.

To honour Zafar, Gold says the company will be building a school in Pakistan in her name.

“The Dania Zafar School of Hope will be a haven for children who dream big and love the arts. We hope this school will provide comfort to Dania’s family in Pakistan.”Dania Zafar, shown in a handout photo, is one of the people confirmed missing in the fire that swept through an Old Montreal building on March 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Zafar Mahmood

Nathan Sears, also from Toronto, was a political scientist who was listed as having participated in the International Studies Association conference held in Montreal the same week of the fire.

He had just defended his Ph.D. thesis in international relations last year, according to his thesis supervisor.

“The loss is devastating to everyone who knew Nathan,” said University of Toronto professor Steven Bernstein in an e-mail to CTV News. "I’ve never encountered a student who cares so deeply about what he studied.”

"He was also a wonderful human being," he continued. "His passion was matched by his kindness. I’ve heard from several people in the last few days how he helped and supported them through the challenges of PhD studies."

-With files from The Canadian Press

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