Criminal negligence conviction for landlord who disregarded Fire Code violations, deceived fire inspector

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 bedroom;

2. the appellant knew that Mr. Dhaliwal [the tenant who died] cooked in his room but failed to take effective measures to prevent this;

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 was upheld.

R. v. Singh, 2015, ONCA 855 (CanLII)

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Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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