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The site of a fire in Old Montreal that killed seven people, including people staying in unlicensed short-term rentals, sits behind fencing, in Montreal, on Aug. 3.Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press

Émile Benamor, the owner of the Old Montreal building where a fire in March left seven people dead, filed a $7.6-million lawsuit against the City of Montreal, accusing its fire department of inadequate involvement in the years before and on the day of the tragedy.

The city “seriously contributed to the outbreak and severity of the fire, to the damage caused to the Building as well as to the lives lost in this tragic event,” the lawsuit alleges.

Mr. Benamor, identified elsewhere under the first name Emile-Haim, also accuses the city of defamation and says it might have facilitated arson, which the police are now investigating.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit has been proven in court. It was filed in Quebec Superior Court by lawyers Éric Oliver and Lucie Desgagné Thursday.

The three-storey, 14-unit heritage building went up in flames the morning of March 16. The lawsuit says Mr. Benamor was on the scene early on and tried to communicate “vital information” to firefighters about the fact that people were probably inside at the time and would require immediate assistance.

“However, those in charge on site are not willing to hear the applicant,” and early efforts to fight the blaze were limited and insufficient, the lawsuit says.

Mr. Benamor’s lawsuit says that “the Building, its configuration and the uses carried out there were all known and even approved by the City.”

The lawsuit says that between 2009, the year he bought the building, and 2019, the city asked Mr. Benamor for several modifications related to fire safety issues, and that he was fined “on a few occasions.”

“But some of the fixes requested by the City turned out to be crazy, unfounded or impossible to achieve, many of them were cancelled, settled, or for which the applicant was acquitted,” the lawsuit says.

The Globe and Mail and several other outlets reported in April that the building was flagged on multiple occasions for safety violations related to firewalls, alarms and exits, among other things.

Last month, The Globe revealed that in 2013, the City of Montreal asked the municipal court to drop charges against Mr. Benamor related to non-compliant evacuation routes and alarm systems. The city declined to disclose the reasons for that request, and there is no record of some of the issues ever being resolved.

The lawsuit alleges that a plea deal was reached between Mr. Benamor and the city for what appear to be those same charges, in which the owner of the building agreed to plead guilty to four infractions while five others were dropped.

As part of the plea deal, the lawsuit says Mr. Benamor had to leave an old door with heritage value, which led directly outside the building, permanently unlocked because it opened inward, and the fire department deemed this unsafe.

The lawsuit alleges that “this measure allowed or, at least, greatly facilitated” the arson, as traces of accelerant were found in the hallway behind the door.

Mr. Benamor says that in 2012, the city asked him to remove a staircase that led to the building’s rooftop, itself connected to a neighbouring building, meaning “occupants had one less escape route at the time of the fire.”

The lawsuit says the city “has not carried out any fire prevention or safety inspections” for this building since February, 2019. It also points to the moratoriums on the enforcement of evacuation routes and alarm system upgrades instituted by the fire department in the years preceding the fire, and uncovered by The Globe, to conclude that Mr. Benamor was “justified in believing that the Building complied with the City’s expectations and that no additional intervention was necessary.”

This appears to contradict fire department reports disclosed earlier this year. These say that an inspector did a follow-up visit in October, 2020, noted that fire alarm systems were still uncompliant as of Nov. 20, 2020, and discussed the issue with Mr. Benamor on Nov. 24, 2020.

Finally, the lawsuit alleges that the city, notably through Mayor Valérie Plante, made false declarations linking the fire to illegal Airbnb units in the building, which Mr. Benamor says had no connection to the arson.

The City of Montreal declined to comment “out of respect for the legal process,” spokesperson Guillaume Rivest wrote in an e-mail to The Globe.

The family of Charlie Lacroix, who died in the fire, filed a $1.5-million lawsuit Friday against Mr. Benamor, the city, and alleged Airbnb operator Tariq Hasan, saying their negligence caused her death after she was trapped in a windowless room with a friend, Walid Belkahla, another victim.

In March, a lawyer for the father of Nathan Sears, who was also killed in the fire, filed an application to launch a class-action lawsuit against Mr. Benamor, Mr. Hasan, and Airbnb, seeking $22-million in punitive damages for the victims’ families and survivors of the fire, along with an undetermined amount in compensatory damages.

An investigation into the deaths by the coroner’s office has been put on hold until the completion of the criminal investigation into the arson, led by Montreal police, or the end of any judicial process that might stem from it.

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