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Probe: Attitudes Doomed Mall

Thursday, October 23, 2014

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"Apathy, neglect, indifference, mediocrity, ineptitude, incompetence, greed, obfuscation and duplicity" all perpetuated problems that caused the catastrophic collapse of a Canadian shopping mall in 2012, a judicial inquiry has determined.

Engineers, owners and public officials all share responsibility for the deadly cave-in at Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, concludes Commissioner Paul Belanger, who led the $20 million investigation.

In a 1,394-page report released Wednesday (Oct. 15), Belanger calls the disaster a human, not material, failure.

Algo Centre Mall
Ontario Provincial Police / NORR Report

The rooftop parking garage at Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, collapsed June 23, 2012, killing two and injuring 19 others.

“Some of these failings were minor, some were not,” he said in a statement. “They ranged from apathy, neglect, and indifference through mediocrity, ineptitude, and incompetence to outright greed, obfuscation, and duplicity.”

“Occasional voices of alarm and warning blew by deaf and callous ears. Warning signs went unseen […]"

The report concludes a 27-month-long investigation, public inquiry and review into the rooftop parking garage collapse of June 23, 2012. The cave-in killed Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, and injured 19 others.

More than 118 witnesses testified and more than one million pages of documents were reviewed during the investigation.

Collapse Probed

Immediately following the collapse, details emerged regarding three decades of leaks, flooding, fallen concrete blocks and other structural issues at the mall.

A forensic engineering report conducted for Ontario Provincial Police found corrosion levels so severe that it took just one second for one car driving over an unstable weld to cause the cave-in.


Corrosion levels at the mall were similar to those observed in a marine-like environment, according to an engineering firm that examined the structure.

The structure, built in 1980, leaked water from the day it opened until the day it collapsed and had been nicknamed “Algo Falls.” Belanger said it was “doomed to early failure” while in the design phase.

In addition, an untested waterproofing system that failed almost immediately was used, Belanger wrote. Three separate owners made years of quick fixes.

Belanger said lives could have been saved if any of the engineers, officials or owners involved over the years had insisted on permanently fixing the underlying waterproofing problems.

“Some did, but they were ignored,” he said.

Engineer Charged

A former engineer who had declared the mall “structurally sound” just months before it caved in has been the only individual criminally charged in the case.

Robert Wood, 64, of Sault Ste. Marie, faces two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, according to the Ontario Provincial Police. Wood is alleged to have failed to catch the dangerous level of corrosion of the mall’s steel structure.

He testified during the hearings that he had altered his inspection report at the request of the owner, omitting details and images.

Engineer Robert Wood
Elliot Lake Inquiry

Robert Wood, 64, a former engineer who alledgedly failed to spot the dangerous level of corrosion at the mall, has been criminally charged in the case.

The Ontario Provincial Police say their investigation into the matter is ongoing, reports relate.

Others to Blame

But Wood is not the only one to blame in the tragedy, Belanger suggests in the report.

Some engineers “pandered more to their clients’ sensitivities than to their professional obligation to expose the logical and scientific consequences of their observations,” he said.

Some public officials, meanwhile, “lacked competence,” he added. “Secrecy and confidentiality often trumped candour, transparency and openness.”

Evidence at the inquiry indicated that city officials had held monthly secret meetings to discuss issues at the mall—the social and economic center for the community—and ultimately, failed to act.

In addition, building officials failed to order repairs to the structure or demolition.

The owners of the mall had resources to fix the leakage problem, but none did, Belanger noted.

“Owners chose cheap and ineffective repairs or opted to sell the mall when faced with significant repair bills,” he said. “They actively concealed their knowledge of the parking deck’s condition from the City and from subsequent purchasers."

Eastwood Inc., led by Robert Nazarian, 68,  owned the property when the fatal collapse occurred. Belanger said the company “actively misrepresented the repair work it engaged in and resorted to subterfuge and falsehood to mislead authorities, tenants and the public.”

Robert Nazarian
Elliot Lake Inquiry

The mall's most recent owner, Robert Nazarian, called the structure a "black hole" and rejected recommendations regarding waterproofing the structure.

“Algo Mall was a black hole,” Nazarian testified during the hearings. “No matter how much money put in…the mall was doomed.”

Emergency Response

While Part 1 of the report deals with the events leading up to the collapse, the second part covers what happened during the emergency response period. The response effort was the second major focus of the judicial inquiry.

There was evidence that Perizzolo died almost instantly due to blunt force trauma; however, Aylwin may have survived up to 39 hours after the roof crushed her.

“There is a possibility she might have been rescued, but we will never know for sure,” Belanger said.

The decision to remove responders from the pile of rubble because of the structure's unsafe condition should have been a pause to regroup and explore alternative approaches, instead of a premature end to rescue efforts, according to Belanger.

Belanger said he hoped that the report gave the families of the victims and the community a better understanding of the causes of their loss.

71 Recommendations

Belanger made 71 recommendations in his report, noting that many of them would require legislative change.

He recommended, for example, mandating a province-wide requirement that buildings be maintained to a minimum standard to ensure public safety. The buildings should be inspected by properly qualified structural engineers, he added.

“These inspections should occur when a building is sold and, at a minimum, at a frequency that is commensurate with the risk of harm from a failure to meet the standard,” he noted.

Further, information regarding whether buildings meet minimum public safety standards should be available to owners, the public and prospective buyers.

He also recommended that those charged with determining whether buildings meet these safety standards as well as enforcing them should be properly trained and certified.

Their certification, training and any disciplinary measures should be searchable to the public, he noted.

Belanger’s report does not charge or prosecute anyone.  


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridge/parking deck waterproofing; Building owners; Commercial Construction; Engineers; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; Parking Garages; Waterproofing

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