By P.A. Sévigny
As the result of the province’s Public Curator’s inaction to a number of urgent warnings, Lachine resident Edith Fischkohl’s house was destroyed when frozen pipes burst causing the massive flood of water that ruined both the Fischkohl home as well as the one that belongs to Mona Rainville—Fischkohl’s friend and neighbour.
During an extended interview with The Suburban, Rainville—a retired journalist and lawyer—described “the perfect storm “ for which she blames both the public curator and its bureaucracy for failing to act in time to prevent the destruction of both her neighbor’s house and the extensive damage that was done to her own home.
“These people are supposed to be caring for some of the most fragile and vulnerable people in all of our so-called modern society,” said Rainville. “Based upon what happened to my friend, I can honestly say that the province’s public curator is presently at odds with the law, that its bureaucracy is completely dysfunctional and that Québec’s Public Curator is still completely unaccountable to both the province’s Minister [in charge of seniors and family services] as well as to Québec’s National Assembly.”
During the interview, Rainville described her relationship as “a deep and committed friendship” with Fischkohl – a German immigrant who chose to come to Canada with her husband and daughter after the war.
“She was a proud woman, “said Rainville. “She was a kind and self-reliant woman who worked hard and always did her best to keep a clean house for her family.”
As both a neighbor and a friend, she told The Suburban that “Edith is still very much a part of my life,” even as the old woman now resides in a local hospice and has trouble remembering her name.
“It’s sad but over the years, I could see that life was catching up to her,” said Rainville.
Following her husband’s death in 1989, Fischkohl managed to get by as she learned how to deal with life on her own. But within a few years, it became obvious that she would soon require some help after which a notary’s mandate allowed Fischkohl’s daughter to manage her mother’s affairs.
“That’s when the story gets complicated,” said Rainville. “Who could have guessed that Edith’s daughter would become as much of a victim of the same kind of senile dementia that affected her mother?”
As a result of the daughter’s condition, relations with Fischkohl’s family cooled after which her two grandsons offered to step up but that was complicated because one of the boys had serious health issues of his own and the other one was still dealing with what Rainville believes was a bad case of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) that arose out of the time he spent overseas in the American military.
In late September 2012, the situation took a turn for the worse when Fischkohl fell down the stairs of her house.
“Mona, this time I really think that I need your help,” she said.
Badly bruised about the head and holding her broken arm, Rainville got ready to take her friend to the hospital, but just before leaving, she decided to call her family in Boston.
“Renata [Fischkohl’s daughter] answered the phone, said that I was exaggerating the whole story and hung up the phone,” said Rainville. “And it was only after I left Edith at the hospital that I knew that there was no way the authorities would let her live on her own again.”
As relations with Fischkohl’s family continued to deteriorate, Rainville began to get worried about her friend’s house that now required some immediate attention. When a colony of bats moved into the old home’s attic where they began to share the space with a colony of squirrels, evidence began to mount that Fischkohl’s family were no longer paying her bills.
Following an entire year during which there were no visits, or even a word from Fischkohl’s immediate family, Rainville noticed that the old woman was in an obvious decline and that the house was no longer being properly maintained. As it had already been a year since Edith had her accident, Rainville decided to call the province’s Public Curator in order to provide them with their first official notice as to what was going on with both her friend and her house.
Within days after she first called the curator’s office, she was told that the local CLSC had been asked to look into the case after which delays began to stretch into weeks before Rainville heard any news about what the curator planed to do about Edith Fischkohl and her house.
As winter was already on its way, the weather was getting cold and Rainville was getting worried that no one, including Fischkohl’s family, seemed to be concerned about the empty house. After the curator’s authorities finally managed to get hold of Fishkohl’s grandson, there was more legal maneuvering after which at least one of the curator’s agents called Rainville in order to ask for her help to get into the house in order to get a look at the woman’s financial papers. As there was still no word about who was going to heat and maintain the empty house, Rainville warned both the borough and the local fire department about the situation but they couldn’t do anything as it was unclear as to who was in charge of the house.
Following yet another round of promises to get back to her after they had looked into the situation, Rainville was once again left to wait for their call.
Several weeks later, during last year’s Christmas holiday, the city was enduring the first major cold snap of the season when the neighbor on the other side of Fischkohl’s house complained that he had no water. Pipes had frozen in the Fischkohl house and the situation was serious.
As the cold weather occurred during the beginning of the new year, everyone was on holiday but Rainville finally got some help when she called the curator’s emergency help line in order to warn them about the situation in her neighbor’s house. get the authority she required to get into the house with a plumber in order to prevent a flood.
Although they still did not have a proper mandate to take over Ms. Fischlohl’s affairs, they did provide Rainville with a temporary mandate that allowed her to enter the house with a plumber in order to assess the damage that was being done to the house.
“It was the 3rd of January  and it was just as cold [-20º] inside the house as it was out on the street,” she said. “The oil tank was empty, the pipes were all completely frozen and we found a letter from Edith’s insurance company that due to non payment, the home’s insurance was scheduled to be cancelled on Jan. 15.”
Meanwhile, the curator maintained its position that it still couldn’t do anything because they were still waiting for a medical report about the state of Ms. Fischkohl’s mental fitness. On Jan. 7, authorities finally managed to get in touch with Fischkohl’s grandson who promised that he would drive up to Montreal in time for the Jan. 14, in order to take care of the final details of the curator’s mandate.
On the Jan. 9, 2014, Edith Fischkohl was officially declared a ward of the state but her house still had no heat. Rainville once again called the curator’s officials to warn them about the home’s frozen pipes but, aside from a brief voice mail message, no one answered her call and nothing was done to cut off the water to what used to be one of the prettiest homes in Lachine.
On the Jan. 14, plumbers were waiting for the grandson who was supposed to let them into the house but he never showed up because a later call indicated that he had to take care of what he described as a previous “pressing appointment.”
The following day, the temperature dropped far past the freezing point and the city began to work its way out of the deep freeze. When Mona Rainville stepped out on the street in order to help Fischkohl’s grandson get into the house, she could see that he was crying as he watched the streams of water pouring out of the second floor ceiling’s broken pipes as it made its way through the building’s two floors in to the already flooded basement.
When she asked him why he missed the previous day’s appointment, he told Rainville that one of the curator’s bureaucrats asked him to come see her in her office because she needed his help in order to help her fill in some details about his grandmother’s file.
Aside from the usual distress and expense incurred when home owners must quickly take action to clean up a mess before it causes further problems, Rainville’s bills are steadily making their way into the stratosphere while the curator’s authorities continued to make every effort to avoid any kind of blame or responsibility for an incident that could have been so easily prevented if they had properly done their job.
As negotiations between Rainville and assorted insurance companies continue to implicate the curator’s bureaucracy, relations have become strained and more than a little tense. As of late last year, at least one of the curator’s officials (verbally) offered to sell Rainville the ruined building for a fraction ($95 000) of what the building was worth ($350 000 – $400 000) before the flood “as long as we don’t have to go to court.”
“This case is all about civil responsibility,” said the former lawyer. “They had a duty to act, and their failure to do so caused a number of serious consequences to the injured party. As any lawyer knows, those are the three pillars that define civil responsibility and based upon what happened to Edith and her property, Québec’s Public Curator failed to live up to that responsibility.”
Following a number of calls made to the curator’s office, spokesman Pierre Luc Lévesque called The Suburban back only a few minutes before deadline after which he said that he was well aware of the case but that he couldn’t discuss it because it fell under the curator’s strict “personal information” guidelines.
As for any complaints Ms. Rainville may have about the curator’s office or any of its employees, he said that she could find a link on the curator’s website where she could file her complaint after which he assured The Suburban that it would be quickly and properly dealt with by the proper authorities.