The deadly mall collapse that killed two women in Elliot Lake was “preventable and predictable,” a public inquiry into the disaster was told Monday.
Lawyer Douglas Elliott told the inquiry’s first day of hearings that a number of Algo Centre Mall tenants — including a library, Zellers and Scotiabank — reported leaking problems for years before the roof finally caved in on June 23, 2012.
A basic requirement for roofs in Ontario is that they be water-resistant, said Elliott.
“It's not exactly rocket science,” he said. “This roof never did.”
Elliott and his co-counsel, Roland Aube, who represent the Elliot Lake Mall Action Committee and the Seniors' Action Group, spoke to the inquiry Monday.
Aube said the mall collapse was a serious blow to the small community that had gone through adversity many times in the past.
Elliot Lake managed to recover from the closure of its uranium mines and re-branded itself as a retirement community, only to be hit by the tragic event last year, he said..
“The mall was more than just a shopping area. It was the heartbeat of the community.”
Aube said the collapse never should have happened. “It must never happen again anywhere else,” he said.
Elliott said there has been fear in the community that the inquiry might uncover unpleasant truths that could damage the city's reputation. But he remained optimistic the inquiry would have a positive impact in the end.
“The jewel in the wilderness will gleam again,” he said. “We will make it through this process and we will have the best Elliot Lake we have ever had.”
The inquiry got underway with opening statements and an overview of the evidence that will be presented over the next few months.
The inquiry's commissioner, Paul Belanger, said its goal was not to press criminal charges against those responsible for the collapse, but to find out why it happened.
“This is not a trial,” Belanger said. “This is a public inquiry.”
Peter K. Doody, senior counsel for the commission, highlighted the scope of the hearings. The commission is expected to hear testimony from 75 witnesses over the next few months.
Besides the testimonies, 1,884 documents were submitted to the commission as exhibits. These include narrative documents, which describe in great detail the events leading up to the mall's collapse, consultant reports and engineering plans.