McGuinty calls for Elliot Lake inquiry
Published Friday, June 29, 2012 8:08AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 29, 2012 6:41PM EDT
Premier Dalton McGuinty on Friday called for an independent inquiry into the Elliot Lake mall roof collapse that killed two people.
“I spoke to the families of Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin in Elliot Lake on Wednesday and again today by telephone,” McGuinty said in a statement, referring to the two victims. “I let them know that I will be launching an independent public inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall. These families -- and other Ontarians -- have raised important questions that deserve to be answered. We have an obligation to do whatever we can to prevent similar tragedies and respond in the best way possible when they do happen.”
Earlier Thursday, McGuinty said the province will release any documents related to safety inspections at the mall.
The City of Elliot Lake in a press release on Friday said, “Documents relating to the Algo Centre Mall are now part of ongoing investigations,” adding that the city is providing these documents to investigators.
The mall’s safety record has been called into question as a result of the tragedy, with residents saying leaks in the roof have been a chronic problem over the years.
Tom Zach, spokesperson with the Ministry of Labour, on Friday told CTV News Channel that the City of Elliot Lake is responsible for enforcing the Ontario Building Code and taking care of any structural problems.
“We are strictly there in our role as ensuring workplace safety, and when there’s a fatality or a critical, such as what’s happened here, is to come in and investigate and provide our assistance to the police and the coroners as well as the first responders who arrive on the scene,” Zach said.
Although the ministry was called to the mall six times in 2009, Zach said the trips “had nothing to do with the examination of the structural integrity of the mall itself” but were due to calls from tenants over complaints in a workplace.
“We were called in by various tenants (saying), ‘There is a problem, we want you to respond,’” Zach said. “We responded under the auspices of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Our inspectors are not building inspectors; they are not trained for that. That’s under the Ontario Building Code, and those inspectors would be the ones who inspect the building for structural integrity.”
Details about the public inquiry will be announced later, McGuinty said.
On Wednesday, rescue crews removed two bodies and called an end to their search through the rubble, but for lawyers, the work is just beginning, according to one expert.
The lawyer representing the owner of the Elliot Lake, Ont. mall that collapsed last weekend, said Thursday his client had already received notice that a class-action lawsuit was underway against his client.
Personal injury lawyer Alf Kwinter said Friday the legal process surrounding the disaster will be long and involved.
"You'll have lawsuits by family members and the people who were injured. You can be sure this will give rise to a tremendous amount of litigation," Kwinter told CTV's Canada AM on Friday.
The roof above the mall's food court collapsed last Saturday, killing the two women.
Aylwin's body was pulled from the scene shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, and Perizzolo's body was recovered a few hours later.
Their family members have the right, under Ontario's Family Law Act, to sue for loss of care, guidance or companionship, as well as financial dependency from one of the deceased, Kwinter said.
Anyone who was injured in the disaster also has the right to sue under the Occupiers’ Liability Act.
"That act imposes an obligation on an owner of property to make sure the premises are safe for anyone who comes onto the property, and clearly they weren't," Kwinter said.
"His lawyer has said it passed inspections, so let's see the records. What did they inspect, how often did they inspect?"
In addition, architects, engineers, the construction company that built the mall, and companies that worked on the facility, could also face possible legal action, Kwinter said.
"Once you have notice of what has happened you have to cast a very wide net, bring in anyone who could possibly be liable because if you don't, it might be too late to bring them in later. So a very wide net is cast, you bring in every possible party, and if they're not liable you let them out later. This could be a very long process," Kwinter said.
On Thursday, the lawyer for Bob Nazarian, the owner of the mall, spoke to reporters and residents in Elliot Lake.
Antoine-Rene Fabris said his client had "received death threats, I cannot go any further into it."
Fabris said that Nazarians, who lives in Toronto, had planned to speak to the media but had not yet been given access to the mall and therefore there was no reason for them to come to town as of yet.
"The coroner is still conducting their inquiry, as such the owners of the mall are planning to come back as soon as the mall is returned to their possession," Fabris said.
At one point, an Elliot Lake resident interrupted the news conference and lambasted Fabris, angrily saying the mall had been neglected and people in the community expected something terrible to happen.
Fabris shot back that the mall was regularly inspected, and his own family was in the mall the day of the collapse -- something he never would have allowed if he believed it was unsafe.
McGuinty on Thursday said that some form of financial assistance will be made available for at least 300 people who worked at the mall, one of the largest employers in the northern Ontario community of about 12,000 people.
“Some folks have lost their jobs here. Hopefully, those will come back, but we’re going to have responsibility to provide them with some income support,” he said.