A lawsuit filed by the Toronto District School Board contains “baseless and irresponsible allegations” made against the fire chief and the board should consider a public apology, the city’s top civil servant says.
In a letter sent to the head of the school board on Thursday – the second formal response to the lawsuit from the City of Toronto – City Manager Chris Murray wrote that he was “appalled” by the release of the allegations against Fire Chief Matthew Pegg that “could have only been intended to cause unwarranted harm for some undisclosed strategic benefit.”
The school board filed its statement of claim in court on Wednesday and is suing the province, city and police, saying emergency workers neglected to manage and contain a massive fire that tore through one of its schools, York Memorial Collegiate Institute, two years ago. The board also alleged they covered up wrongdoing.
In particular, the school board alleged that Toronto Fire Services (TFS) “modified” narrative entries in the incident report “in an effort to suppress evidence of negligence on the part of the TFS.” This was after receiving a courtesy phone call from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s (OFM) office that it had “reached a conclusion as to the cause of the fire and that ‘it would not look good on the TFS,’” according to the lawsuit.
Further, two months later, Chief Pegg met with the Fire Marshal’s office, headed by his brother, Jon Pegg, to discuss concerns about the conduct of TFS in response to the initial fire, according to the lawsuit. The statement of claim said that as a result of that meeting, “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.”
Chief Pegg also heads the city’s emergency response to the pandemic.
Mr. Murray wrote to Karen Falconer, interim director of the school board, asking that the TDSB reconsider the allegations and apologize to Chief Pegg.
“Over the last year and more, few have committed more hours and effort to ensure the safety of our community – your schools included,” Mr. Murray wrote. “His leadership, integrity and professionalism has been a steadying factor for our residents and staff … Put plainly, he deserved better.”
He added: “It is difficult not to view this spurious attack on Chief Pegg as a betrayal of our close relationship.”
City spokesman Brad Ross said on Thursday that while staff don’t comment on matters before the courts, they did so on Wednesday after reading the statement of claim because of the allegations against Toronto Fire and its chief. The city wanted to “really ensure that the TDSB and its insurers understood our position, but also the public … [we] wanted to make sure the public knew that we have every confidence in the chief,” Mr. Ross said.
The school board said in a statement on Thursday that the allegations “are larger than any one person” and “are based on an extensive and thorough investigation by the TDSB’s property insurers. They are exercising their right to recover policy payments and other costs.” The board said that much of the damage could have been prevented if the defendants had followed measures and procedures.
The school board also said that the defendants were provided with a draft statement of claim more than three weeks ago, and it had been hoping to resolve the dispute without involving the courts. “Unfortunately, a resolution could not be reached, leaving the TDSB’s insurer with no choice but to proceed through the courts.”
The six-alarm blaze at York Collegiate in May, 2019, burned for more than 24 hours and displaced some 900 students and staff. There were no injuries. The damages are anticipated to be around $90-million, according to the statement of claim.