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Toronto Councillor wants answers on fire safety transparency

Fire inspection reports are shared with landlords but not tenants.

Crew members from Toronto Fire Services are shown in this file photo.

Torstar News Service

Crew members from Toronto Fire Services are shown in this file photo.

A Toronto city councillor is "concerned" by the lack of transparency around fire inspections and is looking for answers.

Josh Matlow plans to ask the fire chief to do a presentation on the topic at the next meeting of council's Tenant Issues Committee in the fall, hoping to learn more about why inspection reports are not publicly available.

The Ward 22 councillor said his office has fielded several emails from tenants in the wake of the recent Grenfell Tower fire — which killed at least 79 people — wondering about the safety of their own highrise buildings.

"Obviously when you see a story like what happened in London, it's completely reasonable to ask those questions," he said.

"When those answers aren't readily available to you, it doesn't instill confidence, and I think tenants should have the ability to be able to have access to basic information that demonstrates that their building is safe," he argued.

Matlow recently pushed for a bylaw that would require results of inspections for problems such as waste and pests to be publicly posted in lobbies.

"Certainly my understanding is that buildings in Toronto are far safer than the building that was affected in London," he added.

"That being said, though, I think we need to get more information out into the public domain given that 50 per cent of Torontonians are tenants and a large number of those residents live in highrise buildings."

Metro reported Wednesday on a Toronto tenant who's spent more than a year trying to track down the results of two fire inspections in his own building, only to be told he had to make an onerous freedom-of-information request.

Toronto deputy fire chief Jim Jessop told Metro last week that residents could learn whether their building is up to code over the phone and that any risk to public safety would be immediately addressed. If the risk was too great, the building would be shut down.

He added that a publicly accessible database of fire inspection reports is "just something we’ve never done.”

“If there was any risk to the apartment building, we have a statutory duty to take all reasonable measures to protect the tenants, which we do every day," he said.

A city spokesperson confirmed fire inspection reports are subject to provincial privacy legislation and the only way to get them is to make a freedom-of-information request.

IT consultant Mark Richardson said he and other open-data advocates have been trying for years to get more information from Toronto Fire Services.

"There's an over-read of the privacy legislation in a lot of cases," he said. "It's a great excuse to kick the can."

Richardson noted inspection reports performed by Toronto Public Health for restaurants, salons and spas are all publicly available online, under the DineSafe and BodySafe programs.

"They've already got an existing model," he said.

"It's a different city department, but as far as I'm concerned, if you die of botulism or your apartment burns down, you're still dead at the end of it."

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