Group home operator wants training not jail time after fatal fire and repeat fire code violations

1 / 3
Group home operator wants training not jail time after fatal fire and repeat fire code violations

A London, Ont. group home operator implicated in a fire that killed a mentally ill tenant was shocked to learn he could face jail time and has asked for an independent review of the case before he is sentenced.

Keith Charles was found guilty of 12 fire code violations in the months leading up to the blaze that killed 72-year old David MacPherson in November 2014.

In March 2017, he was convicted for fire code violations at a different group home where inspectors discovered sheets were being used as makeshift walls and hallways leading to exits were blocked.

That home is now boarded up, and inspectors say they are keeping a close eye on two other unlicensed homes still run by Charles.

Charles defiant

A justice of the peace granted the pre-sentence report Monday into the 2014 fire code violation convictions, noting that the case had dragged on for months.

Charles, who is representing himself, requested the review after learning the justice of the peace was leaning toward a 30-day jail term, to be served on weekends. Crown prosecutors are suggesting a $60,000 fine.

"I believe fire prevention training is fair, not jail time," he told CBC outside the provincial offences court.

Defiant and falsely stating that as a landlord he is not responsible for fire code violations, Charles compared his situation to that of Nelson Mandela's.

"I never broke any rules," Charles said repeating that he is the person who has been wronged.

2014 fire prompted changes to unlicensed homes

The unlicensed group home Charles ran under the banner of People Helping People, burnt down after fire inspectors had flagged smoke alarms with no batteries, an electrical room setup as a bedroom and interior and exterior doorways propped open with paint cans and cinder blocks.

Criminal charges were never laid against Charles in the fire that killed MacPherson though public backlash did prompt London to toughen bylaws for unlicensed group homes in 2016.

Operators must now carry $5-million in liability insurance and follow stricter building and care guidelines.

Charles, who will be back in court at the end of March to set a new sentencing date, was given strict instructions by the justice of the peace to follow through on seeking a pre-sentencing report, an undertaking he must initiate himself.