Councillor calls for inquest into fatal TCH fire

By Faiza Amin

A City of Toronto Councillor is requesting a coroner’s inquest into the death of a man who died following a fatal fire at a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) building at 291 George Street.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam will put forward a motion next week, asking the city and the coroner to investigate Vernon Belanger’s death, the man who she says died on the night of February 9th.

“Is there something the coroner will see that we can’t see?” Councillor Wong-Tam asks.

During February’s fatal fire, 132 units were evacuated in the five storey building where Belanger died. Fire fighters rescued several tenants trapped inside the building. Wong-Tam says the 63 year old’s death isn’t unique and fires in her ward often tend to involve elderly and vulnerable residents.

She says they are “residents who are usually provided with a suite of supports and agency services where we don’t usually see them cared for, not necessarily because of the agencies but because we need to better coordinate it.”

TCH spokesperson Brayden Akers tells CityNews it welcomes Wong-Tam’s request for an investigation.

“As a landlord, the safety of our tenants is our top priority. We welcome any investigation that will shed light on how all stakeholders can work together to help prevent tragedies like 291 George,” he said in a statement.

The social housing provider says it estimates repair costs to be close to $400,000. Akers also adds that TCH is currently assisting the Office of the Fire Marshall in the fire investigation and a cause has not yet been identified.

“After any incident in one of our buildings, we review our actions and look at how we can improve our service as a landlord for our tenants,” he said.

Councillor Wong-Tam says she’s not looking to blame any one party and also wants the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care involved along with TCH.
Her document states Belanger was recovering from a stroke at the time of his death, struggled with mental illness, and didn’t have sufficient home care to ensure he didn’t endanger himself or others. These concerns were voiced by residents who knew Belanger, according to the councillor.

“Perhaps he should not have been discharged from the hospital, and perhaps he could have received a coordinated suite of services that would have taken care of him in a way that could have prevented his death,” she said.

Although Belanger’s cause of death has yet to be released, the councillor says an investigation may prevent future deaths like these.

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