An appeal court has upheld the conviction of a landlord for
criminal negligence causing death after numerous Fire Code
violations led to a tenant's death. The case demonstrates that
violations of duties under provincial safety laws can form the
basis for a criminal negligence conviction.
The premises had been inspected a number of times before the
fire and the landlord was told that specific upgrades, including a
system of linked smoke alarms and pulls, with smoke alarms in every
bedroom, were required to comply with the Fire Code.
A tenant, who had been drinking heavily, died when his blanket
and mattress caught on fire after he left a hot plate on. The
tenant had stayed in his room to try to fight the fire. Another
tenant suffered serious burns. None of the tenants were alerted to
the fire by the sound of a smoke alarm.
On appeal, the landlord argued that there was no evidence that
his negligence was the legal cause of the tenant's death. The
Ontario Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that from the trial
judge's findings, it was clear that:
"1. there were no smoke alarms in each upstairs
2. the appellant knew that Mr. Dhaliwal [the tenant who died]
cooked in his room but failed to take effective measures to prevent
3. the appellant knew that Mr. Dhaliwal was a serious alcoholic
who was very often drunk, while in his room in the property;
4. the appellant knew that the smoke alarms that were in the
house were not working;
5. when the appellant was advised that he was in breach of the
Fire Code, he failed to complete the required upgrades,
thereby risking the lives and safety of his individual tenants;
6. the appellant deliberately deceived the fire inspector into
believing that a group of tenants, living as a family, occupied the
second floor of the property and he did so to avoid the costs of
bringing the premises into compliance;
7. had the required interconnected smoke alarms and pull system
been installed, they would have been activated within seconds of
the fire starting, even before there were flames; and,
8. the required smoke alarm system would have provided the
occupants with the crucial time needed to avoid injury."
The appeal court concluded that the trial judge did not err when
she held that had the landlord made the upgrades required by the
Fire Code, the tenants would have been alerted to the fire
before it became too large to extinguish.
As such, the conviction for criminal negligence causing death
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