Vancouver fire fighter keeps a record of Pandora Street - photo: Vancouver Sun
Last December three men died tragically in a flop house fire on Pandora Street in Vancouver. Thanks in part to the tireless efforts of family members; B.C.’s Coroner recently announced they will make this tragedy the subject of a public inquest in October.
If you recall, within 24 hours of the fire Vision Vancouver’s Kerry Jang was in full damage control telling the media the City couldn’t have done anything more to help prevent the deaths. That’s because the media discovered the home had actually been the subject of numerous inspections and should have been shut down.
According to inspector reports living conditions in the flophouse (which has now been demolished by the City of Vancouver) were simply atrocious and even threatening to life safety. Not only was there documented evidence the home was being used as an illegal boarding house, but residents were using multiple extension cords to operate various appliances and household items.
Which is why I placed a Freedom of Information request with the City of Vancouver to provide a copy of all the digital photos taken by City inspectors. This is standard practice by inspectors who need to document evidence in case they have to go to court.
I firmly believe it is in the public interest to see exactly what kind of conditions Garland McKay, Dwayne Rasmussen and Steven Yellowquill were living in before they died. Unfortunately, the response I received from the City is that the images from inside 2862 Pandora Street are off limits to the public. It appears that if city manager Ballem has her way, no one in the public will ever see what inspectors discovered when they walked through that property prior to the fire.
I am dumbfounded as to why the City wants to keep the images they have on file under wraps. It can’t be deemed an invasion of privacy as the home and its contents no longer exist.
Although the three men who died at Pandora were not technically “street homeless,” they clearly were living in sub-standard conditions. Wouldn’t exposing the kind of conditions they were living in help to galvanize public support for the kind of long-term housing Gregor Robertson claims he supports?
You’d think it would be in the political interest of the Mayor and his Vision caucus to help the public understand exactly what led up to the fire. After all, Robertson had no problem using the plight of Darrell Mickasko during the 2008 campaign to help paint his political opponents as uncaring and uninterested in solving the homelessness problem in Vancouver.
But that was then and this is now. These three men died on the Mayor’s watch and he’s obviously a tad sensitive to claims the City didn’t do enough to prevent their deaths. For goodness sake, in a secret backroom meeting held at City Hall, Vision Vancouver even asked the B.C. Coroner to wait until AFTER the civic election to hold her inquest.
It was a request the Coroner originally supported until Suzanne Anton brought forward a motion to council asking that the inquest be moved up to the earliest date possible. When the debate was moved into the open chamber Vision Vancouver could do little else but remove political considerations from the equation and support Anton’s initiative.
Although I’m disappointed with the City’s decision, I suspect the photos will eventually see the light of day during the upcoming public review in October, especially when media pack the gallery at the Coroner's Inquest.
The B.C. Coroner has sweeping powers which include the ability to force the City to turn over the images. Perhaps then we’ll all get a glimpse into what the living conditions were for McKay, Rasmussen and Yellowquill in the months leading up to the fire. I can only hope it helps to galvanize further support for the development of long-term supportive housing for Vancouver’s most vulnerable.
- Post by Daniel. Follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus