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TDSB suing City and fire department in $90M lawsuit for blaze that devastated York Memorial Collegiate

Last Updated May 5, 2021 at 6:26 pm EDT

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) says it’s suing the City, Toronto Fire and Ontario’s Fire Marshall in a $90 million lawsuit after a May 2019 fire ravaged and destroyed York Memorial Collegiate Institute near Keele Street and Eglinton Avenue.

The lawsuit alleges that upon arriving at the scene on May 6, Toronto Fire Services (TFS) “abandoned further efforts” and failed to complete an overhaul tactic, which TDSB claims allowed the fire to rekindle and thus created more damage.

York Memorial Collegiate Institute, a heritage building, was largely destroyed as a result of the blaze.

“At or around 3:47 p.m., a TFS spokesperson reported that the fire had been knocked down
but there was still ‘hidden burning in the ceilings and walls,'” says the statement of claim.

“However, a few minutes later, at 3:56 p.m., TFS Fire Chief Matthew Pegg reported to Mayor John Tory and others that the fire was ‘now under control and we are in the process of clearing crews from the scene…Our Fire Investigations Team is on scene and the investigation into origin, cause and circumstances of the fire is now underway.'”

The fire was eventually extinguished and two people, including a firefighter, were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Firefighters were then called back to the scene around 3:30 a.m. on May 7 after flames and heavy smoke began to once again billow out of the auditorium.

It took over 24 hours to completely extinguish the fire.

In late August of 2019, the Ontario Fire Marshall’s (OFM) deemed the fire to be “accidental,” adding that investigators were unable to pinpoint what sparked the blaze in the school’s auditorium, concluding it was not deliberately set.

The lawsuit, however, alleges that fire chief Pegg “falsely reported to the TDSB, media and others” that the May 7, 2019 fire was “separate and distinct” from the first fire on May 6, 2019.

“As a result of the July 25, 2019 meeting between Fire Chief Pegg and the OFM and concerns about the potential liability of the TFS and OFM with respect to the May 7, 2019 fire, the final report of the OFM Report was drafted so as to downplay, mislead, conceal and suppress evidence of negligence and gross negligence on the part of the TFS and OFM,” the TDSB claims.

“Among other things, the report failed to address key facts relevant to the cause of the rekindling, including but not limited to the lack of proper overhaul given the presence of cellulosic insulation at the
building, and the TFS’s failure to comply with its Standard Operating Guidelines respecting cellulose insulation.”

Issued Statement of Claim

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

In a statement to 680 NEWS, the TDSB says the school board was no left with “no choice but to take legal action.”

“The TDSB will continue to rebuild York Memorial Collegiate Institute regardless of the outcome of this legal proceeding. It is important to note that the cost of the rebuild is covered by the TDSB’s insurer who has filed this claim to recover its policy payments and additional costs,” said spokesperson Ryan Bird.

“If successful, it would be anticipated that these damages be paid by the City and/or Province’s insurers.”

Bird says the focus of the school board remains on “supporting the 900 students and staff that were sadly displaced by the fire two years ago.”

“At the same time, the important cleanup and preparation work that is critical to the rebuilding process is continuing at the site as we look to once again provide generations of students and staff with new high school memories while honouring the past.”

The City of Toronto said it typically refuses to comment on matters relating to the court but felt the need to address “unfounded allegations against City staff.”

“City staff cooperated fully and professionally in the investigation of the fires at York Memorial Collegiate. Staff took all appropriate steps to preserve evidence, and allegations in the claim that suggest otherwise are patently untrue and irresponsible,” the city said in a statement.

“It is unconscionable that the TDSB and its insurers would impugn the integrity of Fire Chief Matthew Pegg and other Toronto Fire Services staff in this manner.”

The TDSB is seeking $90 million in damages.

“The City will file its statement of defence with the courts in due course and looks forward to vigorously defending against these allegations.”

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