Elliot Lake engineer faces criminal charges

Mall collapsed killed two women, injured dozens

Fuelled by the deadly collapse of a mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., he inspected last year, an engineer is facing criminal charges.

At the end of January, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) charged Robert Wood, the engineer who inspected the Algo Centre Mall prior to the collapse.

Scott Tod, OPP deputy commissioner, said 64-year-old Wood faces two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. His trial was set to begin at the end of March.

The rooftop parking deck of the mall caved in on June 23, 2012, crumbling into the food court injuring dozens
and killing two women — 37-year-old Lucie Aylwin, a lottery kiosk employee and 70-year-old Doloris Perrizolo, a shopper.

According to David Smith, manager of communications for the Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), Wood is no longer a professional engineer. His license was suspended in November of 2011, and revoked in 2012 as a result of an incident unrelated to the mall.

After the Algo Centre’s parking structure caved in, PEO launched its own investigations into the conduct of certain engineers, including Wood. Those investigations are currently ongoing.

Following the collapse, Ontario’s labour ministry also launched an investigation and sent field engineers out for proactive checks and blitzes.

A public inquiry, led by Justice Paul Bélanger, was commissioned by the province and has three major components to its mandate — to examine the events leading to the mall’s collapse; evaluate the emergency response; and make recommendations on how to prevent another such tragedy and perhaps improve emergency management.

During a policy roundtable discussion at the Bélanger hearings, which focused on the role of professionals and managers, Greg Miller, of the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists, made two recommendations to improve the safety of workers and the public. That includes creating a minimum standard for maintenance.

"It does not necessarily have to be the internal building code — it certainly makes sense from what we hear — but as long as it makes it into regulation, that in part and parcel, the PEO has proposed structural practical to which we would also support for being enacted by regulation as well," Miller said.

The government also has a strong role to play in upping preventative safety measures. Miller cited legislation that would enforce, at a minimum once every five years, a thorough structural inspection of high-risk buildings.

As experts zero in on the root of the collapse, its victims are paving their own path to justice. Fronted by John and Elaine Quinte — whose restaurant, Hungry Jack’s, was reduced to rubble — a class action lawsuit has been given the green light.

It includes about 300 people and businesses seeking about $30 million in damages and is aimed at 13 defendants, namely the Government of Ontario, the City of Elliot Lake, past and present owners of the mall and Wood himself.

Among other things, the lawsuit will provide tangible accountability, said David O’Connor of Toronto-based firm Roy O’Connor LLP, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case.

"I hope that not only the class (action) members, but the public generally gets some explanation and some findings as to what went wrong, and who contributed to what went wrong," O’Connor said.

The inquiry led by Justice Bélanger is slated to report back this fall.

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