The York Catholic District School Board simply doesn’t learn.  

It keeps making the same mistakes over and over again.

More than a year ago, serious construction vibration from the Canadian Martyrs Elementary School in London Road, Newmarket caused damage to a number of adjacent properties (including my own) in Harrison Drive.

The Board decided it wasn’t their problem and we ended up paying for the damage they caused.

On 30 October 2018 I took a deputation to the Board explaining what happened and what should be done. I recall standing at the lectern, addressing the Board, with a giant TV screen in my line of sight, counting down the seconds in the 10 minutes given to me to make my case. The Board listened politely, asked a few desultory questions and thought we would just go away.

There are no records

The Board tells me they have no records of the vibration incident. There are no records of a gas leak in the school car park. And they don’t keep records of complaints. 

This begs the question of how the Board - which is responsible for 85 elementary schools and 16 secondary schools employing more than 5,000 teachers serving 54,000 students – currently manages its records. 

I wanted to see the Board’s Records and Information Management Program Manual which sets out the criteria for file creation, retention and destruction. It provides guidance to the Board’s staff.

Nine months ago I asked for sight of this Manual as it would help me make sense of the Board’s statement that there are no records. Indeed, in a phone call from a senior member of staff I was told the gas leak had never occurred. And this was after I told her I talked to the firefighters and got the smell of gas.

Dysfunctional organisation

I knew then that I was dealing with a seriously dysfunctional organisation, unable and unwilling to do the right thing.

My Freedom of Information requests were subsequently ignored by the Board and I was forced to involve the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. The Board stirred itself. 

The official Decision Letter of 8 October 2019 tells me:

“the Board’s Records Management Manual has not been revised since 1997”

and that it is 

“obsolete” 

Can this possibly be the case? 

Wading through treacle

Dealing with the York Catholic District School Board is rather like wading through treacle. It takes a very, very long time to get anywhere.  

On 14 October 2019 I wrote to the Director of Education, Ab Falconi, (above right) who, a year ago, advised the owners of the damaged properties to claim against their own insurers who would in turn claim against the contractor’s insurer. 

This proved to be a dead-end as insurance companies do not insure against the perils of earth movement.

I ask Mr Falconi:

“Has the Board amended and updated its policies and procedures to ensure this cannot happen in the future elsewhere on the YCDSB’s very large estate? And if not, why not? Put simply, if property damage results from construction vibration who pays for the repair and reinstatement?”

I now ask about the Board’s policy on records and information management. How does the Board organise and manage its records? In fact, the Board reviewed and approved its records and information management policy on 8 June 2010 and, most recently, on 31 May 2016. It says this: 

“Records and Information, in electronic and paper formats, shall be maintained and retained in keeping with guidelines established by the Province of Ontario and as outlined in the Board’s Records and Information Management Manual”

And that

“Staff shall be trained on their responsibilities as outlined in the Records and Information Management Manual.”

I want to know how this is possible when the Manual was last revised in 1997 and is now deemed “obsolete". 

The Records and Information Management Policy says this at paragraph 3.7:

"The Board's Records and Information Management Manual shall be updated in conjunction with any review of the Records and Information Management policy."

Obviously, this has not been done. 

Getting nowhere

I don’t know if or when I shall get a reply from Mr Falconi. I feel as though I could write to the Board for the next twelve months and get precisely nowhere. That is why I am involving the Ombudsman who investigates maladministration in public bodies.

Construction vibration is a big issue that impacts on a lot of people. That is why the Town of Newmarket recently brought in new procedures for vibration generated by new housing construction. But that’s not enough. The Town will be considering before Christmas what, if anything, can be done to protect residents from other kinds of construction carried out by rogue organisations such as the York Catholic District School Board..

Clearly, a new by-law is needed. 

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