Lawyer for owner of Old Montreal building speaks out after deadly fire
For the first time, the owner of a building in Old Montreal has responded to questions about the deadly fire — through his lawyer — addressing allegations that the building was unsafe.
In the hours after the fire, questions began to emerge about the building's safety. The family of 18-year-old Charlie Lacroix, one of the seven presumed dead, says she was trapped in a windowless room.
"She made two 911 calls. The first one was to tell them we're stuck, there's a fire everywhere, but there's no windows, so there's no way to escape," said Kelly Ann Seguin, Lacroix's friend.
But Alexandre Bergevin, the lawyer for the owner of the building, Emile-Haim Benamor, told CTV News that the building was up to code.
"He bought this place like that, it was like that. The city came and it was, you know, conform. What can I tell you?" Bergevin said.
ROOM WITH NO WINDOWS
A video posted to Reddit in 2020 shows a windowless room in the building that Lacroix was likely staying in. Bergevin said the unit was near two interior fire escape routes.
"For her, it was possible to get out on the left and on the right," he said, acknowledging there was no window to escape from.
"No," he said, "but if you're living in a building in Montreal, in a tower, you cannot jump out your window if there is a fire alarm. You need to get an escape trail to get out."
As the fire raged in the building, others managed to escape out windows. Some survivors told CTV News they did not hear a fire alarm.
"I did see a fire alarm, like the round tablet, physically, two of them in the unit, but none of them had actually went off," claimed Alina Kuzmina in an interview last Saturday.
A police officer hugs a woman near the site of a building that was gutted by a fire in Montreal, Thursday, March 23, 2023. The heritage building went up in flames last week. Four bodies have been recovered and three people remain missing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
SMOKE ALARMS WORKED, LAWYER SAYS
According to Bergevin, "All units were supposed to have smoke detectors."
He said his client, Benamor, replaced the central alarm system in 2019 and insists maintenance workers checked it was working the morning of the fire.
"It is also the obligation [of] the leasee to have one and to make sure it's working," he added.
Bergevin confirmed Tariq Hasan was renting multiple units in the building and then renting them out on Airbnb. The city, however, does not allow short-term rentals in the area.
A worker is shown next to a building that was gutted by a fire in Montreal, Thursday, March 23, 2023. The heritage building went up in flames last week. Four bodies have been recovered and three people remain missing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Bergevin said Benamor was trying to shut him down. He said two notices were sent in August of last year but the listings stayed up. One former tenant of the building told CTV News that Benamor allowed the operation to continue.
"No, no, that's completely false. I didn't see any evidence. I see only evidence against the assertion," he said.
Hasan and his lawyer both declined to comment on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Bergevin says it's not the time to assign responsibility.
"There is a public trial going on without evidence, that the media is doing against the client, and I just want everybody to be careful, to be relaxed and to wait until the authorities determine what happened there," Bergevin said.
Both Montreal police and the coroner are looking into the cause and circumstances surrounding this deadly fire that has so far left four people dead and at least three missing.
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