When Gerald Catt, P. Eng, was talking to a supplier for a major, 500,000 square foot Brantford, Ontario project, he realized that the design firm on the project had been one he’d previously did some consulting work for. Curious to know who was the engineer of record which had signed off on the drawings for the massive venture, he was stunned to discover the answer—it was him.
As Catt explained to OSPE, this was a major problem. “People that are non-engineers get Certificate of Authorizations (CofA) from the PEO. Then an engineer on record reviews and approves all their work.” That engineer is responsible for approving the safety features of the drawings, “Some of the things we stamp are fire alarm systems, emergency exit lighting, sprinkler system design. If you’re in a building and you can’t find your way out in an emergency, you have a problem.”
Catt states that he took the proper measures of notifying the regulator, the Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), of the issue, explaining that not only was he not an employee of the design firm, he was not under contract with them, or currently affiliated in any way. He indicated that the “Commitment To General Reviews By Architect and Engineers” and multiple drawings bearing his name and seal had been forged. It also meant that the buildings being constructed had not actually been vetted for safety by a professional engineer.
Alarmingly, he received no acknowledgment from PEO. When he followed up with the regulator by contacting PEO once more, Catt discovered that the CofA issued to the design company had actually expired nine months ago, but no follow up action was being taken. Concerned, Catt began his own investigation.
Catt soon learned how serious and shocking the problem was. This sub-contractor was misusing Catt’s name and qualifications by utilizing an electronic copy of his engineer’s seal on engineering drawings and other documents and submitting them for building permits with the local municipal building officials.
Catt again contacted the provincial regulator, PEO, for advice, but received no reply. The local building inspectors and private parties involved were also reluctant to provide assistance. “The city of Brantford has at least 13 building projects that I was able to find that were based on forged documents. The response to me was ‘those files are closed.’ That’s wrong. If we don’t look after our mandate, to protect our public, we don’t really have a job. We might as well all go home and stay there.”
Concerningly, this was not the first time Catt had faced similar forgery and fraudulent facsimile of his seal and inaction from PEO. Ten years ago, a similar instance occurred, and even then PEO said they were unable to investigate, citing a lack of resources. At that time, Catt then turned to the Ontario Provincial Police to file a complaint. The ensuing investigation found that the person in question had forged his seal in several dozen incidents, and subsequently, Mr. David Key pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 for fraud by the Provincial Courts.
Catt was worried about the risk to safety and the inaction from PEO. “The PEO was less than enthused in getting involved with the previous fraud case. With the KEY Technical Service fraud case, the principal’s lawyer arranged a plea bargain. All the criminal charges were dropped, and he was fined $10,000 for unlawfully practicing as a Professional Engineer.”
With the provincial regulatory body again refusing to assist, Catt turned to his member association, OSPE, for help. “The system is broken and needs to be fixed. It’s part of legislation that every engineer must pass an ethics exam. As soon as they pass it, they can ignore it, because there’s no teeth to it. There’s no reprimand.”
Once Catt notified OSPE, we immediately opened the lines of communication with PEO, as we believed that this fit within their mandate as regulator and pressed them with a response to Catt’s concerns. In this, OSPE commends PEO Registrar/CEO Johnny Zuccon, P.Eng., who initiated an investigation after a conversation with Sandro Perruzza, OSPE’s CEO.
Perruzza also began a dialogue with his contacts at multiple ministries within the provincial government and with the Senior Officials at the Ontario Building Officer’s Association, to see what could be done to protect the safety of Ontarians. Surprisingly, he faced roadblocks at every step. At potential risk were not only the dozens of buildings that were approved under Catt’s misappropriated seal, but the unknown number of times this was occurring throughout the province with other engineers. OSPE also connected Catt to OSPE’s legal partner, Corestone Law, where they provided a free consult on what Mr. Catt’s legal options were, and some legal advice on next steps.
After reaching out to a number of OSPE members with their own CofA’s, OSPE learned that although the forging of documents is not rampant, many members had their own experiences of forged documents and copied seals, and relayed concern of how easy it is to do.
Speaking on the issue, OSPE CEO Perruzza comments, “I was quite surprised by the lack of concern and initial response from our inquiries into the issue and by the ensuing cover-up of these incidents. This was not a simple issue of misfiled paperwork, but one where non-qualified people where misleading officials and actually putting lives at stake. We believe a lack of resources assigned by PEO, and the lack of focus on its regulatory duties is putting the public at risk, and that immediate action had to be taken.”
Spurred by PEO’s continued inaction, Catt brought the issue to the attention of CBC news, inviting OSPE to join him for an interview. CBC committed to investigate the misappropriation, alongside widespread regulatory problems at PEO, and the danger they pose for all of Ontario. OSPE continued to maintain open lines of communication with PEO and government officials, while assisting Gerald Catt, P.Eng. in protecting Ontarians.
As Perruzza notes, OSPE has always supported the primary role of PEO. “Without a strong regulator focused on protecting the public and the environment, the public perception of the engineering community in Ontario will continue to be in jeopardy. OSPE has been advocating for changes at PEO for years, calling on its leadership to solely focus on their primary objective to regulate the practice of professional engineering. This call to action should have been reinforced by the recent findings of the External Regulatory Review, conducted by the Professional Standards Authority in early 2019.”
OSPE has long stood for regulatory reform and action at PEO, believing that it is the key to upholding the integrity of the profession. Engineers must continue to be trusted and valued members of society, and a healthy, fully functioning PEO, fulfilling its mandate as a regulatory body, is key to this. OSPE is proud to continue to push for regulatory reform resulting in a stronger, focused regulator of the practice of professional engineering. This is for the good of engineers, for the safety of the public, for the protection of our environment, a better Ontario, and a stronger Canada.