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Criminal charges laid over Elliot Lake mall inspection

The owner of the consulting engineering company that last inspected the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake was arrested on January 31.


The owner of the consulting engineering company that last inspected the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake was arrested on January 31.

Robert Wood was a principal in M.R. Wright and Associates, which operated out of Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario. Wood had his professional engineering license taken away in 2011 for an unrelated matter, but he had continued to work for the firm along with his partner.

In May 2012, Wood conducted an inspection of the mall and adjacent hotel for the owner, who was preparing to sell the property. Wood identified surface rust on some beams, but decided it was not serious and reported that the structure was sound.

A few weeks later on June 23, 2012, a beam and column connection holding up the mall roof that supported a parking lot on top gave way, causing the building to partially collapse. Two women were killed and another man was seriously injured.

The mall roof had leaked badly ever since it opened in 1980, and over the years several structural engineering consultants had been called on to inspect it. Around the time of the collapse, the leaks were so bad, stores in the mall had to string tarps across the ceiling.

Wood has now been charged by the Ontario Provincial Police with two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. Wood is scheduled to appear in court in Elliot Lake on March 25.

The OPP officers who announced the charges said it was “a unique, complex and challenging investigation, which took considerable time to process evidence and being precise in the application of criminal law.”

They said that their investigations are ongoing. NORR Partnership and Priestley Demolition were called in to help the OPP in their investigations, as well as specialist companies such as Giatec Scientific of Ottawa and Northway Photomat of Barrie.

The Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Paul Bélanger finished its hearings into the cause of the collapse and the flawed emergency response in October 2013. Justice Bélanger is due to issue a report in October this year.

Professional Engineers Ontario participated in the Inquiry and the licensing organization has proposed tightening the rules for structural engineers as a result of the mall’s collapse.

Wood admitted during the Inquiry that he had agreed to alter and remove some information and photographs from his inspection report at the request of the owner.

To read about the laying of charges on Robert Wood on January 31 in the Elliot Lake Standard, click here.

To read an editorial comment in Canadian Consulting Engineer’s August-September 2013 issue, click here.

To read a report on PEO’s submission to the inquiry and their proposed changes to the regulatory framework governing building inspections and structural engineers, click here.