Fire marshal issues code red

GN inspector predicts dire consequences unless city creates enforcement position

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

KIRSTEN MURPHY

The City of Iqaluit is heading for legal trouble unless it hires a building inspector, fire marshal Gerald Pickett says.

Pickett knows of at least a half dozen commercial buildings with built-in residential suites along the West 40 Road and the industrial park that do not meet municipal building codes.

“It’s not my place to enforce the city’s bylaws,” the territorial employee said.

If people are injured while living in illegal suites, the municipality is ultimately liable, he said.

Pickett’s job is fire protection throughout Nunavut — a job that took him outside Iqaluit for all but two weekends this summer. His priority is ensuring, for example, a $300,000 fire truck arrives in Sanikiluaq this year and that 24 hamlets have trained volunteer firefighters.

Building inspections in Iqaluit are low on his priority list.

When he does perform inspections, Pickett checks the distance between buildings and the thickness of walls. Often, he doesn’t like what he sees.

“I see it throughout Nunavut. People cut corners,” he said.

Every other Canadian capital city has at least one building inspector. However, every other capital city has a more established infrastructure which allows for more money and manpower to go into inspections.

Pickett has asked Iqaluit administrators to hire a dedicated inspector. He’s also suggested the fire department start doing spot checks.

Otherwise, the city is open to civil suits if a person is injured or killed in a building.

“It’s a big problem,” Pickett said. “I’ve seen it before. People are ruined financially, marriages break down because of major court actions. We’re isolated up here but we’re not immune.”

When he finds violations, Pickett’s hands are somewhat tied, he said. If he knows a building is not up to code he can issue a $500 fine or issue a stop-work order.

However, $500 to a developer poised to make several hundred thousand dollars — perhaps millions — on a project isn’t much of a deterrent.

“I can fine them but nothing is going to change,” he said.

Illegal suites are not new, and not surprising given the city’s chronic housing shortage.

Chrystal Fuller, the city’s director of planning and lands, is well aware of the problem.

Since taking over as director in December, Fuller has beefed up her staff and adopted a hard-line approach to granting building permits. She considers Pickett an ally and said public safety is a concern.

“People who choose to ignore bylaws put a lot of things at risk. The bylaws are there to protect everyone and make sure our community grows in an organized and reasonable fashion,” Fuller said.

“It’s up to the developer to take responsibility. It says so right on the development permit,” she said.

Adding a bylaw officer would help with enforcement, Fuller said.

But hiring an enforcement officer depends on city council’s approval. Additional staffing would cost taxpayers and means more fees and more rules — something developers are already unhappy with, Fuller said.

Rick Butler, the city’s chief administrative officer, cautioned against putting the cart before the horse.

“The city’s water lines are about to implode, the dump is burning, the roads need repaving. We have many, many needs and council does not have [a building inspector] as a priority,” Butler said. “We’re managing the risks the best we can.”

The city’s bylaws are being re-written and Fuller encourages people to speak up about their concerns.

“If you don’t like something let me know,” she said.

Meanwhile, Pickett remains openly pessimistic.

“It’s a problem that’s eventually going to come up and bite them in the bum,” Pickett said.

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