Toronto Star's View: Learn the lessons of the...
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Oct 15, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Learn the lessons of the Elliot Lake mall collapse

A report from the official Commission of Inquiry into the Algo Mall collapse tells a tragic story of greed and incompetence unchecked by city officials and provincial oversight policies


Over 33 years, three successive owners of the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake ignored signs that the building was on the verge of crumbling. The last of these owners, Bob Nazarian, asked an inspector to alter a report he had commissioned on the mall’s integrity. The inspector, whose license had recently been suspended, agreed to raise no urgent concerns. A month later, in the summer of 2012, the building collapsed, killing two women and injuring dozens of others.

A new report from the official Commission of Inquiry into the Algo Mall incident is a tragic 1,400-page chronicle of preventable catastrophe, of individual greed and incompetence allowed to flourish by negligent municipal officials and flawed provincial and professional oversight systems. Its 71 thoughtful recommendations ought to be considered carefully by all complicit in the disaster and all in a position to prevent a future one.

“Although it was rust that defeated the structure of the Algo Mall, the real story behind the collapse is one of human, not material, failure,” writes retired justice Paul Belanger in his articulate and sometimes-stirring report. These failures “ranged from apathy, neglect, and indifference through mediocrity, ineptitude and incompetence to outright greed, obfuscation and duplicity. Occasional voices of alarm blew by deaf and callous ears.”

In addition to the irresponsible owners and the inspector, Robert Wood, who now faces criminal charges, the report fingers city officials who disregarded repeated warnings about the mall’s dangerous dilapidation, and takes issue with oversight policies of the province and of regulatory body Professional Engineers Ontario.

In its second half, the report looks at the haphazard search effort that followed the collapse. And while it’s true, as Belanger writes, that Ontario must quickly improve its capacity to respond to such disasters, it is more urgent still to act now to prevent them.

To that end, the report makes several sensible suggestions, calling on the province to heighten minimum structural safety standards for malls, introduce mandatory periodic inspections and improve transparency about the conditions of commercial buildings. Belanger also reasonably proposes that Professional Engineers Ontario improve inspector training, toughen inspection standards and openly report on the professional statuses of its members.

That it took the deadly collapse of Algo Mall to produce these and other recommendations is a terrible shame. The question now is whether Belanger’s urgent advice will fall on yet more deaf and callous ears, or whether the province, its cities and its engineers will put the suggested systems in place to check greed and incompetence and keep future catastrophes at bay.

Toronto Star

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