Keith Charles. (Free Press file photo)

Keith Charles. (Free Press file photo)

Controversial group home operator Keith Charles is facing an enormous financial penalty after being found guilty Friday morning of 12 fire code infractions.

The prosecution is seeking $60,000 in fines – $5,000 for each count – for the 12 convictions at 1452 Oxford St. that stretch from April 7 to November 3, 2014, when resident David MacPherson, 72, died in a fire.

Friday afternoon, Charles, who has represented himself at his Provincial Offences court trial without a lawyer, is expected to make his final pitch to justice of the peace Peter Aharan, who convicted Charles on Monday morning.

Should the prosecution be successful, the surcharge would push the fines to $75,000.

That total would also add to the $7,500 fine levelled against him last week for a property he leased on Clarke Road.

Even before Aharan’s decision, Charles was still maintaining his innocence and that the obvious problems at the building he leased were not his fault, but that of the building owner.

“If I don’t pay the fines I go to jail. And the fines are ridiculous amounts,” he said. “How in this god’s earth in London you can charge somebody for what another person does and not hold that person accountable?”

“Why am I here? I did not do anything. For what somebody else does? It’s ludicrous.”

Aharan’s decision left no doubt that he found Charles’s defence to the individual charges inadequate, and that Charles fit the legal definition of “owner” under the fire code.

He noted that written final arguments, even after a warning from Aharan not to include any new evidence, included evidence and were written in the first-person.

Charles, who operates People Helping People, had leased the building from owner Dharma Meetun and used it to house people with severe mental illnesses.

Charles also had $14-per-day service agreements with each of the clients. Charles would make their meals and supply them with toiletries.

Aharan said that while Charles was singularly-focused on proving he wasn’t an “owner,” he met the broad definition in the fire code.

The London fire department charged Charles after fire doors were found propped open with pails and carpets, emergency lights were burned out, furnishings were left in hallways and smoke detectors were either missing or disabled.

During one inspection, it was discovered that one resident was being housed in the electrical room.

Aharan said that during the cross-examinations of the fire inspectors, Charles didn’t challenge the specifics of their findings.

Aharan said choosing to operate homes for vulnerable people required Charles to be diligent in his upkeep of the buildings, ensuring the fire code standards were met and to keep proper records.

The fire investigations “demonstrate a pattern of neglect over a period of time.”

Prosecutor Michelle Perez Butlin argued for the fines to “specifically deter Mr. Charles” given the ongoing problems at the property.

Charles asked for a break to prepare his sentencing argument because “I have to feed some people at lunch time today.”

 

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Source: Group home operator found guilty | The London Free Press