Countless numbers of inspection reports didn't seem to have an impact - why?
Just before Christmas, a tragic fire on Pandora Street in Vancouver took the lives of three disadvantaged citizens. They were reportedly sharing a flophouse with up to six other people and died after a faulty extension cord set the house on fire. It's been a couple of weeks now since the incident occurred, but I certainly hope our local media keep up the pressure on the City of Vancouver to get answers regarding all the circumstances that led to the fire.
So far the only elected official from Vision Vancouver to speak to publicly on this issue has been Andrea Reimer. When asked whether she would support NPA councillor Suzanne Anton's call for an independent review into this tragedy, she said no decision could be made until staff got back from their holidays.
This morning City Manager Penny Ballem was on CKNW spinning out that the City of Vancouver did everything it could to prevent this tragedy. She also continues to claim the City was on the verge of taking the owner to court. Okay...so does her public statements mean there will be no independent review?
It has been widely reported that this house had been a problem for a long while and various inspectors had made frequent visits to the premises over the last 12 months or so. In fact, they visited the home last August and again in November. Yet despite inspectors writing up numerous reports, it would appear this house was allowed to operate as a quasi-boarding house. One theory floating out there is that City staff are so afraid of the political repercussions of closing down flophouses, that they are loathe to do so.
There remain dozens of unanswered questions related to what the City did and didn't do to prevent the loss of life at this home. Unlike the ever-optimistic Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston, I don't believe the City did everything possible. After sifting through the dozens of pages of inspection reports, it's clear to me that someone needs to conduct an independent examination of exactly what did and did not happen in the months leading up to the fire.
Due to the rampant politicization of the public service at Vancouver City Hall, I don't think the review should be done by the City staff. Rather, I agree with Anton that an independent third party should come in and be given a free hand to look at all the circumstances in this case and see if the City could have done anything differently. I'm simply not convinced that an internal review signed off by the current City Manager would have any credibility - especially given her recent statements to the media that no stone was left unturned.
I'm pretty sure Mayor Gregor Robertson and his political henchman will fight any kind of public review of city procedures and processes when it comes to dealing with these kinds of flophouses. That's because the report may well highlight some serious deficiencies with the way the City is enforcing (or not enforcing) its current by-laws intended to protect both individuals and communities from harm.
When Mayor Gregor finally comes back from his latest vacation, he'll likely be told by his political advisors to quash Anton's motion in its entirety. He'll then proceed to tell the media there are already a couple of reviews underway and there is no need for the City to conduct one as well. That would be unfortunate, given that a coroner's inquiry won't review the effectiveness of City by-laws nor review what role the City could have played in preventing this horrible tragedy.
If Mayor Gregor were to agree to an independent review, here are a few questions the examiner might want to answer:
1. Are the City's by-laws effective enough in dealing with flophouses? If not, what should be changed?
2. Were City staff effectively using the current by-laws to ensure nobody was living in a home unfit for human habitation?
3. Could any of the individuals living at the Pandora home have been offered temporary housing in one of the 250 empty Olympic Village social housings units? Or other social housing?
4. Was the City of Vancouver really on the verge of pursuing legal action? If so, what proof do they have to back up their claim?
5. Why did the Deputy City Manager say inspectors did not find any issues concerning life and safety...yet when the inspection reports were released, it was revealed that numerous incidents related to poor electrical were documented in the home?
6. Are City staff feeling any political pressure not to close flophouses down even though they may be fire hazards?
A local pastor and family members have already publicly stated they think the City should conduct an independent review. I agree with them.
Let's hope that in this one instance the Mayor can put partisan politics aside and get to the bottom of what happened to three of his citizens just before Christmas. The Mayor owes it to these men, their family and the local community to get as many answers as possible.
UPDATE @ 7:15 pm: "Victim's family blames city for fatal house fire" says headline for CTV news story. To view it click here. CKNW also covered during their morning newscasts as well.
- Post by Daniel