Toronto

Fire safety checks at major Toronto buildings weren't done properly, city auditor general finds

Companies that were supposed to ensure essential life-safety services in key Toronto buildings billed for work that was never completed, a new report says.

A scathing report says inspection vendors forged signatures and used fake identities

Beverly Romeo-Beehler, the city's auditor general, released a scathing report saying vendors hired by the city to ensure life-safety requirements billed for work that wasn't completed. (CBC News)

A report released Friday by Toronto's auditor general found that two companies tasked with providing essential life-safety services to some of Toronto's busiest buildings didn't do the work they claimed they did.

Beverly Romeo-Beehler's scathing report also accuses the company, which signed various city contracts totalling some $950,000 worth of work over a seven-year span, of using false identities and forging signatures on some of the work that was done.

York Fire Protection and Advance Fire Control, both directed by a man named Rauf Ahmad, signed a variety of city contracts over the last several years to inspect and ensure the fire safety of essential city buildings, including Union Station, Toronto's city hall, Exhibition Place and more, Romeo-Beehler found. 

She said 11 of 12 city-owned buildings that Toronto Fire inspected had Ontario Fire Code deficiencies. Toronto Fire examined more buildings in the past few months, which resulted in a total of 58 additional Ontario Fire Code charges laid between March and May.

"It is our view that the City is not sufficiently tracking performance or verifying past performance," her report reads.

The issues include problems with emergency lighting, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers and other preventative system requirements.

Romeo-Beehler's report lays much of the blame on Ahmad, the vendor, and his associated companies. Here's some of what she found:

  • A complaint was made to the city's fraud and waste hotline in 2017 alleging the vendor submitted inaccurate reports, used false identities and forged signatures of their own staff.
  • There was a lack of documentation to prove the work was done in a majority of the cases, although the city continued to award contracts to the vendor.
  • The vendor had "serious billing irregularities and unsatisfactory performance relating to inspections," which includes submitting duplicate invoices.

CBC Toronto has reached out to York Fire Protection to get the company reaction to the report, and is awaiting its response.

It's a 'disgrace' issue went unreported, Mayor Tory says

In a letter to the chair of of the Audit Committee, Coun. Stephen Holyday, Toronto Mayor John Tory called the failure to conduct proper due diligence of the inspection vendors 'inconceivable.' (John Rieti/CBC)

Mayor John Tory issued a statement after the release of the report demanding answers about how so many things went wrong.

"I urge the audit committee to immediately accept all [Romeo-Beehler's] recommendations and demand an immediate report on compliance of these buildings," Tory said in a letter to Coun. Stephen Holyday, chair of the committee charged with reviewing the report.

Tory also blasted unnamed city staff members Romeo-Beehler's report criticized for not cooperating with the probe.

"That quite simply is a disgrace," his letter states. 

The mayor said the staff implicated in the scandal should be disciplined and perhaps dismissed. 

Holyday spoke to CBC Toronto about his reaction to the report, saying he was "very upset and disappointed to read it." He said city officials will deal with deficiencies immediately, and will introduce precautions to ensure contractors are fulfilling their promises. 

"What we know at best is that the city may have paid for services that it didn't receive, at best we may not have met the commitments of us required under the law," he said. "But at worst there may be some issues with safety in the buildings.

"If police need to be involved, I encourage that as well." 

Issues went on for years 

Romeo-Beehler says a similar 2005 report urged the city to conduct regular inspections into these vendors. Her new report found those recommendations were never implemented.

"It was evident from our review some issues have existed for years," she said.

 

She's now recommending three main improvements: better documentation of inspections, performing due diligence on vendors before awarding contracts and an overall strengthening of the life-safety industry.

"If a disreputable or unqualified company is hired to certify that life safety systems are operating as intended, it can present both a fire hazard and a safety and security risk," Romeo-Beehler's report said.

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