Elliot Lake: Lessons for condo owners

The most important lesson that the Elliot Lake Algo Centre Mall collapse has for condo owners who live in older condo residential buildings is to be aware that anyone, and sometimes everyone, that is in a position of trust may betray that trust if greed, money or denial is involved.

Condo owners must understand that if their eyes tell them that their condo's building structure may be unsafe, then assurances from the property manager, the board and even the engineers may be worthless.

If a board gets an engineer's report that states millions need to be spent repairing the parking garage, the balconies, the building envelope, the roof, or all of the above, and the board or the owners do not want to pay up, they may seek out a different engineer , one who will sign off on cheap repair work or may write a report that pushes the critical, but expensive, repairs far, far off into the future.

Any resident who argues that expensive repairs are required may be labelled as An Enemy of the People.

Read the CBC news reports below and see how many people, including the tenants, ignored all the warning signs indicating that the structure was unsafe.


Elliot Lake fatal mall collapse comes down to ‘human failure,’ report says
Public inquiry spent months examining Algo Centre Mall collapse in June 2012 that killed 2 women
CBC News
15 October 2014

The head of the public inquiry into the fatal 2012 Algo Centre Mall roof collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont., more than two years ago, says the real story behind the tragedy was “human failure."

In his final report, revealed to members of the community Wednesday, Justice Paul Belanger said "many of those whose calling or occupation touched the mall displayed failings — its designers and builders, its owners, some architects and engineers, as well as the municipal and provincial officials charged with the duty of protecting the public."

Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, died and 19 others were hurt in the collapse.

"Apathy, neglect and indifference to mediocrity, ineptitude, incompetence and outright greed”

“Apathy, neglect and indifference to mediocrity, ineptitude, incompetence and outright greed” riddled the fate of the mall, the report says.

Some engineering inspections were so cursory and incomplete, they were essentially meaningless, he continued.

"Secrecy and confidentiality often trumped candour, transparency, and openness.

"Based on any fair and objective analysis of the history of the Algo Mall as it unfolded during the commission's hearings, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that, if any one of the owners, engineers or officials who were involved with the mall over its 33 years of existence had insisted: ‘enough … this building will fail if it isn't fixed,’ two lives would not have been senselessly and tragically lost."

years of water and salt penetration

The report was released at a local community centre — two years and four months after part of the mall's rooftop garage caved in following years of water and salt penetration.

Some key recommendations include:

The province should establish minimum standards of maintenance for buildings like the Algo Centre Mall.

Properly qualified structural engineers should inspect buildings when sold, more frequently if public safety dictates.

Make information about building condition easily accessible and understandable to owners, the public and potential buyers.

Enforcement of standards should be straightforward and make public authorities accountable for their decisions and actions.

Professional engineers and municipal building officials should be trained and certified, and information about them accessible to owners and the public.

Increase capacity of search and rescue teams to respond to structural collapses. Have one person in charge of an emergency response.

Improve communications among emergency responders, and between responders and the public, especially victims.

What is clear is that the disaster began unfolding in the 1970s. The mall, Belanger concludes, was "doomed to early failure" while still in its planning stages.

Putting parking on the roof was a bad idea. The defective roof design — using an untested combination of materials — made matters much worse.

"The system was a dismal failure from the moment it was installed," the report states.

Ironically, the mall seldom lacked for professional oversight from architects and engineers, with some 30 visits, inspections and reports over its 33-year life.

However, the scrutiny never translated into a proper fix for the leaks that prompted some to dub the centre the "Algo Falls." No one, it seems, appeared to realize how severely the rust would compromise the integrity of the structural steel.

Engineer's work 'markedly inferior'
Some of the engineers involved simply forgot the "moral and ethical foundation" of their vocation and, Belanger concludes, were more concerned with pandering to clients than with protecting the public.

Engineer Robert Wood appeared at the inquiry. Paul Belanger, commissioner of the public inquiry, was particularly critical of Wood, who signed off on the health of the mall just weeks before it collapsed. (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

The commissioner was particularly critical of Robert (Bob) Wood, the engineer who signed off on the health of the mall just weeks before it collapsed. His work and conduct, Belanger says, were "markedly inferior."

falsifying his report to appease the owner

Wood, who faces criminal charges in connection with the collapse, admitted to falsifying his report to appease the owner.

"His review was similar to that of a mechanic inspecting a car with a cracked engine block who pronounces the vehicle sound because of its good paint job," the report states.

the mall's various owners hid the problems

According to the commission, the mall's various owners hid the problems, then tried to sell their way out of them when patchwork fixes didn't work. Profit considerations trumped all other concerns, Belanger says.

The "crafty" and intransigent Bob Nazarian, who owned the mall when the disaster struck, lied about repair work, and resorted to "subterfuge and falsehood to mislead authorities, tenants and the public," the report concludes.

Willfully blind municipal officials

Willfully blind municipal officials — the mayor, council and building inspectors — were of little use in dealing with the worsening problems.

They illegally shut the public out of meetings. They failed to enforce

They ignored public complaints and warnings about the leaks and falling concrete. They illegally shut the public out of meetings. They failed to enforce, or were ignorant of, their own bylaws, according to the report.

Instead, their approach was one of "non-interference" aimed at safeguarding the mall as a social and economic hub that provided significant tax revenues.

'Warning signs went unseen'
At one point, Belanger notes, the municipality was the mall's owner, its tenant, and enforcer of property standards—the "worst possible conflict situation."

"Warning signs went unseen by eyes likely averted for fear of jeopardizing the mall's existence," Belanger says.

deaf and callous ears

"Occasional voices of alarm and warning blew by deaf and callous ears."

The report also notes that officials with the provincial Ministry of Labour, which had offices in the mall, appeared curiously indifferent to the state of disrepair, and unresponsive to complaints.

In all, the report makes 71 recommendations. They include setting minimum maintenance standards for buildings, beefed-up inspections, and an expanded emergency response capability.

Inquiry report offers 'closure'
The public inquiry into the mall disaster held months of hearings and examined thousands of documents.

Keith Moyer, a member of an Elliot Lake advocacy group for seniors, followed the inquiry hearings almost daily.

"I have expectations that he [Belanger] is going to come out with some very worthwhile doable recommendations, and just hope that those with the power to implement them do so," he said before the report was released.

Luc Morrisette, who owned a flower shop in the mall before its collapse, said he remembers what rainy days were like inside his store.

"You're dodging the leaks all over the store. There would be new buckets all over. But it was a daily thing, so you almost get used to seeing those buckets," he said.

Despite his misgivings, Morrisette kept his store in the mall for 16 years — until the day the rusty ceiling beams gave in to decades of water and salt that had leaked through from the roof-top parking deck, sending cars and concrete down into the mall.

Lawsuit ahead
Police, who have charged a former engineer criminally, are still investigating the collapse.

In February, a judge approved a class action lawsuit brought by those who suffered losses in the Algo Centre Mall collapse. About 300 people and businesses are seeking damages. There are 13 defendants, including the province of Ontario, the City of Elliot Lake, and the former and current mall owners.

The judge's decision also rejected the province of Ontario's argument that it should not be a defendant, and said Ministry of Labour inspectors should be held to account.

The lawsuit was launched by Elaine and Jack Quinte, who lost their restaurant in the mall during the roof collapse.


Robert Wood, last engineer to inspect Elliot Lake mall before collapse, heads to trial
CBC News   (abridged)
05 September 2016

The only person criminally charged in connection with the deadly 2012 Elliot Lake mall collapse will face trial starting on Tuesday.

Discredited engineer Robert Wood is facing two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

Reminder for engineers to uphold public safety
The trial is not expected to have any implications with respect to the work of engineers, at least one expert said, but it will reinforce their responsibility to protect the public interest.

"This court case really serves as a reminder to engineers across the province that their duty to society is to regard the welfare of the public as paramount above their obligations to clients or employers," said Gerard McDonald, registrar of Professional Engineers Ontario.

"We're interested in any comments that the court makes regarding engineering and the public interest."

At his request, Wood's trial is taking place in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. It is scheduled to last five months.

If convicted, he could face a life sentence.


Mall manager says report altered, unflattering photo removed
By: Linda Richardson
15 November 2016

The Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake is pictured in this file photo taken after the 2012 roof collapse. Sudbury.com

After a two-week hiatus, the trial of the former engineer facing criminal charges stemming from the collapse of the Elliot Lake mall resumed Monday with the woman who managed the facility at the time of the 2012 fatal cave-in on the witness stand.

Rhonda Bear became manager of the Algo Centre Mall in May 2011, just 13 months before the June 23, 2012 collapse of the rooftop parking deck that killed two women and injured dozens of other people.

Robert Wood, of Sault Ste. Marie, pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death and a single count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm at the commencement of the trial on Sept. 6.

Doloris Perrizzolo, 74, and Lucie Aylwin, 37, lost their lives when the parking deck collapsed on to the area of a kiosk where the younger woman worked and Perrizzolo was purchasing lottery tickets.

Bear testified that she had some involvement in a request from mall owner Robert Nazarian to Wood to make changes to a report from a structural inspection he conducted at the mall on April 12, 2012.

In the report, Wood declared an inspection of the beams indicated the mall was structurally sound.

Assistant Crown attorney Marc Huneault read a paragraph from the report, where

Wood said: "The ongoing leakage from the parking deck is of particular concern in the areas of Zellers and the expansion joint located along the south wall of the Algo Inn, over the municipal library. As per pictures 5 and 6 we noted vehicle impact on the wall siding in this area may also have added problems."

Bear said she forwarded the report to Nazarian, and she subsequently e-mailed Wood on behalf of her boss to ask him to remove some information from the report, which had been prepared for possible refinancing or potential sale of the mall.

She testified that she received an amended report from the now-defunct M.R. Wright and Associates, Wood's firm, on May 9, 2012.

"ongoing leakage from the parking deck is of particular concern"

The words "ongoing leakage from the parking deck is of particular concern" in the areas of Zellers had been replaced by "the leakage through the parking deck has caused surface rusting of the structural steel" in the areas of Zellers.

One of the photos also was removed from the report

One of the photos also was removed from the report, at the request of Nazarian, who felt it was unflattering and didn't serve a purpose, Bear said.

Superior Court Justice Edward Gareau also heard that on her third day on the job in 2011, she received information about a piece of concrete that had fallen into Hungry Jack's restaurant in the mall.

Bear said she thought it was "a fluke incident" because her maintenance manager told her the piece of cement was shaped like a dagger and that's why it came out of the wire mesh and fell.

During cross-examination by defence counsel Robert MacRae, she indicated "a lot happened in the beginning" after she became mall manager.

The concrete came down, there were no records on the office computer, and she had visits from the fire chief and the Ministry of Labour, she said.

Subsequent to that there were problems with leaking, repairs to the roof, and the mall was losing tenants.

a chart, labeled Vicious Circle

In a document, about a mall land proposal, entered as evidence, she was questioned about a chart, labeled Vicious Circle.

It referred to the loss of retailers because of the leaks and the need to fix the leaks to get tenants, she said.

"Did you feel like an individual who had to put fingers in the dike because holes were popping up every where?" MacRae asked.

"Yes," Bear responded.

The trial, which has heard testimony from numerous witnesses since it began more than two months ago, is scheduled to last until the end of December.

Gareau has asked the lawyers to keep January open in case more time is required to complete the case.


A reader in Elliot Lake writes:
20 November 2016

Everybody knew about the leaks at the mall, problem was that no one cared, just like no one cares about the problems in condominiums.

Carol Hughes and Michael Mantha MPP both had offices at the mall. How could they can ignore buckets all over the mall every day? Are they blind?

City, health & safety were all oblivious to the problem. Just amazing how the system works. There is a petition going on to prosecute more people whether this will happened or not I have no idea.

They are all hypocrites focusing only on one man.

Mr. Write engineering advice to our condo was to install siding over the bricks to prevent water leaks that was in 2009, and board did nothing. The basements are still leaking because of deteriorated bricks. No matter what anyone says no one does anything about anything.

No matter what anyone says no one does anything about anything, let just hang the engineer now.

So very sad I hope justice prevails at least in this case. Windy and cold here.

Have a great day!


Defence attempts to stay charges in Elliot Lake mall collapse trial
CBC News
By Olivia Stefanovich
18 April 2017

A charter application is expected to be heard in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on Wednesday in an attempt to stay charges against Robert Wood — two months after closing remarks were made in his trial.

The former engineer declared the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., structurally sound after conducting a visual inspection in April 2012.

Two months later on June 23, 2012, a portion of the shopping centre's rooftop parking deck caved in, and killed Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, and severely injured Jean-Marie Marceau, 80.

Defence lawyer Robert MacRae is arguing that it took too long for Wood's case to go to trial.

Wood was arrested on Jan. 31, 2014 for two counts of criminal negligence causing death, and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

His trial began 32 months later on Sept. 6, 2016.

Wood has pleaded not guilty to the allegations against him.

There can be 'exceptional circumstances'
A charter application can have several outcomes, according to Sudbury lawyer Glenn Sandberg who is not involved in Wood's trial.

"The court finds that the delay is unreasonable and the charges stayed," Sandberg said.

"Or if it's a transitional case and there are exceptional circumstances, the court can find that notwithstanding the delay is not excessive and the trial proceeds."

Wood is the only person facing criminal charges in connection to the fatal roof collapse.

A verdict in Wood's trial is scheduled to be delivered on July 25 in Ontario Superior Court.

top  contents  appendix   previous   next