Old Montreal fire: Inspectors cited building owner multiple times before deadly blaze

·2 min read

MONTREAL — Inspectors from the Montreal fire department reported multiple fire code violations during visits to an Old Montreal heritage building in the years leading up to a fire last March that killed seven people.

Documents released by the City of Montreal under access to information laws show that inspectors cited the building's owner, Émile-Haim Benamor, for violations on several occasions between 2009 and 2020.

In early 2019, the fire department ordered Benamor to install an alarm system that conformed with the 1995 building code. He was also ordered to guarantee that the alarm reached a particular volume level in specific units.

A November 2020 follow-up inspection found that those issues weren't resolved. It's unclear, however, whether the violations were addressed after that date.

Seven people died in the March 16 fire, including two people who were staying in a unit that had no windows. One survivor of the fire said she never heard a fire alarm go off.

A lawyer for Benamor was not immediately available for comment on Friday.

Issues with the alarm system were also found during inspections in 2010, 2014, and 2018. As well, the documents show that inspectors repeatedly found problems with fire doors, emergency lighting and fire extinguishers.

In 2010, inspectors found that a fire escape staircase was welded shut and "non-functional." That year, they filed a complaint with Quebec's building and construction regulator because a renovation to a third-floor unit blocked access to the fire escape from other apartments.

That issue appears to have been left unresolved for years. A 2018 note filed in the city's fire prevention management system suggests the problem with the staircase had not been fixed. The documents suggest judicial proceedings related to that deficiency were closed in 2021, but they don't show the results of those proceedings.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2023.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press