Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad
No one is checking if we're safe

Iqaluit has no way to enforce building code

Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 10/01) - Officially, Iqaluit is a city, but to some worried residents it sometimes seems more like a tiny hamlet that can't guarantee public safety.

What's missing, says fire marshal Gerald Pickett, is a building inspector.

"We're having problems. If (contractors) don't meet code requirements, construction may be substandard and the building may be more of a liability than an asset," Pickett warns.

Having a building inspector on the city payroll, he says, "would eliminate a hell of a lot of problems with the town."

The city's director of planning and lands agrees. "Iqaluit is certainly big enough," says Bruce Parker.

Without an inspector, the town cannot be held liable for design or construction flaws. Instead, the responsibility falls on contractors.

"Developers are basically obliged to follow the building code and fire code," Parker says. "What we don't have is someone to go out and physically ensure that that is being done."

Buildings are checked for adherence to fire and electrical standards by territorial inspectors. But no one inspects buildings for minor items, such as vapour barriers or structural trusses.

As a result, contractors can skimp on things like "two nails where three are required, or whatever's in the building code," says Parker. "If there's a way that you could cheapen up a building by not doing something, it could happen."

In addition to hiring an inspector, Pickett wants to streamline the application process. As it stands, he says he occasionally comes across completed buildings before seeing the plans.

That was the case with a new 16-unit housing complex on the Road to Nowhere. It failed to meet the fire code, forcing the contractor and Pickett's office to compromise on safety issues.

"It's an issue out there to protect the public interest," says Keith Irving, a member of city council. "There's a regulatory gap in Nunavut."

Council has pressed for increased enforcement of city bylaws, but without an inspector, enforcement is often left to chance discoveries.

Some inspections are being done, thanks to the banks, who fly in specialists from the South to comply with requirements from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

"We need (an inspector), especially on commercial buildings," says Louis Cortemanche of the Royal Bank. "We have to get somebody from outside and it brings some heavy costs."

Cortemanche says Iqaluit could also use an appraiser and an environmental controls officer. "These professionals are important in a community that is growing, where we have a very large construction compared to any other city in Canada," he says.

At least one contractor agrees. "It would be great to have a building inspector. It would speed things up, help move plans along a bit better, and help the quality of construction," says Joamic-Can project officer Brent Crooks.

Not everyone believes the city needs an inspector, though. "I don't think we have the financial resources to hire one right now, and we're in a fiscal crisis," says deputy mayor Matthew Spence.

"We have a development officer who is essentially our building inspector," he adds.

With or without one, buildings aren't dangerous "unless there's an absolute blunder that isn't caught," cautions Parker. "With construction you can't cut corners and build cheap, or your financiers and your clients aren't going to accept it. They won't take your product and you end up bankrupt," he says.