Ontario Attorney General, John Gerretsen has announced the appointment of Justice Paul Belanger to lead an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the collapse and rescue from the Elliot Lake’s Algo Central Mall. Two people, one a mall worker, were killed in the collapse. More than 20 others were injured. Justice Belanger will be given one year to report.
Justice Belanger served on the Ontario Court of Justice bench from 1996 until 2002 at which time he took a position on the Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. Justice Belanger currently sits as a per diem judge at the Ontario Court of Justice.
Community shock in Elliot Lake turned to outrage after rescue efforts appeared to stall and information about numerous Ministry of Labour (MOL) visits surfaced. Calls for an inquiry came from residents and local elected representatives shortly after the tragedy.
MOL inspectors had visited the mall six times since November 2010. The most recent inspection, in January 2012, was triggered by a complaint of roof leaks. However, despite the owner’s inability to locate the source of the leaks, the Ministry was apparently satisfied by the mall owner’s voluntary compliance efforts and no orders were issued.
Media reports have suggested salt and melting snow from the parking garage above the mall caused corrosion of steel girders, leading to the collapse.
A key role in the inquiry will be played by the Counsel to the Commission, who will lead evidence and examination during inquiry hearings. Paul Cavalluzzo, who served as Counsel to the Walkerton Inquiry, told the Globe and Mail the role of Commission Counsel is to bring forward all evidence and be “public interest oriented.” He suggested the Elliot Lake inquiry’s three goals should be to explain how and why the mall collapsed, provide recommendations for preventing similar incidents, and restore public confidence in government oversight institutions. The deaths of seven Walkerton residents were attributed to failures of the municipal water company. These failures were known to the Ministry of the Environment, but in this case the Ministry also took voluntary compliance approach.
The Ontario Cabinet will develop terms of reference to set out the scope of Justice Belanger’s inquiry. Once Counsel and the terms of reference are set, individuals and organizations will be able to apply for standing with the inquiry. Parties with standing contribute to the inquiry’s work through submissions and participation in technical group discussions.