|(photo courtesy of: www.ontarioliberal.ca)|
Ministry for Municipal Affairs and Housing administers the Ontario Building Code Act and all its regulations. The Building Official's Code of Conduct is an integral part of that act put in place to ensure appropriate standards of behaviour, enforcement actions, honesty and integrity among building officials. It is not hard to imagine the amount of power building inspectors can wield. A building inspector can prolong work on large and small projects adding cost and frustration. An unscrupulous inspector can turn a homeowner's life into a nightmare with stress. For that reason the Code of Conduct aims to “prevent practices which may constitute an abuse of power, including unethical or illegal practices, by building officials in the exercise of their power or the performance of their duties under the Ontario Building Code Act and Regulations and other applicable legislation.”
An investigation by the Ministry is required into the practices of Building Inspector II, Steven Sunderland employed by the City of St.Catharines, (all the details, photographs and documents posted on mayorgate.blogspot.com). Steven Sunderland not only has breached the ethics of his position, he has gone so far as to threaten a member of the public, even though it was he who issued an illegal order to remedy an unsafe building.
No reasonable individual could accept that any order by any building inspector could be issued without an inspection. After all there is a reason the position is titled 'Building Inspector'. Using the term or explanation as “it appeared to be...” from a back lane several hundred feet away as the basis for an order is extremely suspect and impossible to comprehend. That is exactly what Sunderland has claimed as his reason for an order he issued on January 19th 2012.
Any homeowner to receive an order to remedy an unsafe building posted on the front door is stressful. This type of order is a threat and cannot be perceived in any other way. It states that compliance has to be within a certain time allotted, penalties of convictions and massive fines. No one can argue that it is a threat. When that threat is issued without justification then the stress magnified. Sunderland had issued an order without any inspection at all. He had done this even though the house in question only as recently as five weeks prior had a new roof, soffit, fascia, gutters and front porch – all clearly visible to any so called building inspector. Sunderland made no attempt to contact the occupants of the house to find out any details at all.
Sunderland was contacted by the owner of the house in an attempt to to explain that the small unused back portion in question was indeed being prepared to be demolished. It is an unused enclosed back porch. Sunderland hung up on the owner. Several days later Sunderland came to the house, he was recorded as he spoke on the front porch.
When asked if he had inspected the house prior to the issuing of the order Sunderland remained silent, he refused to answer. Then when asked to inspect it there he replied to the occupant, “you can go out back if you want.” Sunderland refused to inspect. He said he won't be recorded, when informed that it was upon legal advice that the meeting was recorded he replied with a threat. Sunderland said as he walked away, “I'll get my lawyer and I'll be back.” In any reasonable interpretation that was a threat by a public employee. It cannot be perceived in any other way.
Sunderland did not clarify if he meant his private lawyer, though that is the assumption. No public employee of any kind can issue such a threat. He was not in his office, he was on private property and to refuse to be put on record raises dangerous questions. Sunderland had breached not only ethics but the law and the Ontario Building Code. It was Sunderland who issued an order illegally in return threatens a member of the public.
Action against Building Inspector Steven Sunderland must be taken swiftly so as to ensure he cannot abuse his position and power again. Copies of correspondence provided to the City of St.Catharines City Solicitor are here.
A building inspector has power that when abused becomes a weapon. Steven Sunderland Building Inspector for the Corporation of the City of St.Catharines must have that power removed from his grasp as it is clear that ethics are not a priority or a guideline for him. He cannot be allowed to use that authority and power as a weapon.
The Ontario Building Code and its regulations are the realm of your authority and the Ministry for Municipal Affairs and Housing cannot walk away from its responsibility.
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