An allegation of fraud against a city contractor has uncovered incompetence at Toronto City Hall that may have put lives at risk.
The Auditor General of the City of Toronto has found evidence that a contractor hired to perform safety inspection services may have been involved in various fraudulent activities relating to fire code work at several city-owned buildings.
The investigation stemmed from a complaint to the City’s Fraud and Waste Hotline in the summer of 2017.
The ensuing probe found that the City continued to reward the company in question, York Fire Protection, with contracts despite several red flags being raised over the years.
The contractor has operated under other names, including Advance Fire Control and Advanced Detection Technologies Corp.
They were hired to perform crucial safety inspections of emergency lighting, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, and other safety system inspections under the Ontario Fire Code.
“It was alleged that the vendor routinely submitted inspection reports and invoices for work that was not done, forged signatures of their own staff, operated as multiple companies, and used false identities as signatories to contracts,” the AG report states.
“Between 2010 and 2017, Advance Fire Control and York Fire Protection signed various City contracts totaling over $395,000 and $550,000. The person at the centre of both of these companies was Rauf Ahmad, also known as Rauf Arain. Research confirmed that Ahmad was also a Director in Advanced Detection Technologies Corp., a company that was actively bidding on the same City contracts that York Fire Protection was bidding on.”
In May, a Toronto Fire investigation led to 58 Fire Code charges being laid against York Fire Protection, Advanced Detection Technologies, Rauf Ahmad, and other people associated with the companies.
While the AG stated that the city’s Facilities Management Division may not have been aware of the extent of the “vendor’s duplicitousness,” it says the City is ultimately responsible for the safety of its own buildings, and “did not take the necessary steps to verify that inspections were being completed in accordance with the Fire Code and that the buildings were safe.”
“For every building it owns, it is the City’s responsibility to retain the documents required under the Fire Code for access by the Ontario Fire Marshal upon request,” the AG wrote.
Subsequent inspections found that numerous city-owned buildings had fire code deficiencies, including Union Station, City Hall, Old City Hall, Metro Hall, Exhibition Place, Casa Loma, The Toronto Zoo and a city-run daycare.
Not all of those buildings were inspected by the companies being investigated by the AG.
Ignorance and Indifference by City staff
The Auditor General blasted City staff for its “ignorance, indifference, and lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities.”
“It is time for City staff to understand that as the building owner they are legally responsible to ensure the Fire Code is complied with, and that this responsibility does not transfer to the vendor they hire.”
The report (below) makes 17 recommendations including the need for better documentation and an audit trail to prove that safety inspections are completed. It also advises the city to do more due diligence before awarding contracts.
Mayor John Tory responded to the auditor’s report on Friday, expressing his “utter disappointment” with the findings in a letter to the audit committee.
Tory said the report “chronicles an absolute failure to conduct proper due diligence when hiring life safety inspection vendors for City buildings.”
He urged the audit committee to adopt all of the recommendations.
“I want you to know that I have also met with senior City staff and urged in the strongest terms possible that they review the report and staff identified in the report and give every consideration to the disciplinary actions that can be taken up to and including dismissal.”
The Auditor General’s office is hopeful its report will lead to change.
“The safety of City buildings including critical infrastructure buildings helps to ensure the safety of building occupants, consistent service delivery and compliance with the Ontario Fire Code,” it said in an email to CityNews.
“This report highlights the risks of not conducting proper due diligence when hiring life safety inspection vendors and reminds building owners of their responsibility to carry out inspections and retain documents consistent with the Ontario Fire Code. Lastly, this report opens the conversation to clarify expectations and roles across the industry in support of public safety.”