Just before taking a three-week break from hearings, more evidence has been presented at the Elliot Lake inquiry that shows how the owner of the Algo Centre mall handled complaints about leaking in the years before the deadly roof collapse.
Hearings into the fatal mall roof collapse last summer have run continuously since March, but will pause around the anniversary of the tragedy.
The inquiry has heard about decades of water damage that weakened the steel structure of the mall, causing a section of roof to cave in.
The Elliot Lake Inquiry
The public inquiry — established in July 2012 by the Ontario government — has been underway in Elliot Lake since March.
It was created to report on events surrounding the mall roof's collapse, the deaths of Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo, the injuries to others and the emergency management and response.
The hearings are expected to conclude with testimony from former premier Dalton McGuinty on Sept. 26
On Thursday the ScotiaBank manager at the Elliot Lake branch, which resided in the Algo Centre until 2011, described years of water damage.
Judy McCulloch even recalled a time when a soaked ceiling tile fell on the head of an employee.
The water ‘was rust coloured’
McCulloch said there were concerns about mould — and the bank wanted mall owner Bob Nazarian to pay for more testing.
But a letter entered into evidence from Nazarian's lawyer dismissed the health concerns, saying, "I think hysteria is taking over your staff."
Commission lawyer Nadia Effendi asked for McCulloch's reaction to that characterization.
"[I was] very angry," McCulloch said. "I can't really say what I think."
McCulloch testified employees dealt with years of leaking and concerns about mould. And it was clear steel was rusting.
"There was a big pillar that was in there. It rained down the pillar and the water coming down the pillar was rust coloured," McCullough recalled. "And we had to keep buckets around the bottom of the pillar because it was constantly leaking there."
McCulloch told the inquiry the final straw for ScotiaBank came when leaking water shorted out the electrical panel.
She described an encounter she and a colleague had with an electrical safety inspector after the scare:
"[She] asked him, why don't you shut the place down? And he said it was far too political."
The inquiry has heard evidence there was concern at city hall about the impact on business at the mall, which was considered a key gathering spot when Elliot Lake transformed from a mining hub into a retirement community.
Scotiabank eventually moved out of the Algo Centre in late 2011 — over safety concerns. Less than a year later, a section of the mall roof collapsed, killing two women.
Inquiry Commissioner Justice Paul Belanger has now listened to months of testimony — including that about altered engineering reports and fake roof repair invoices. Lawyers have asked repeated questions about why no one at city hall did more to heed the warning signs the structure was failing.
"We now certainly have a clearer picture of the history of this troubled mall and some of the factors that may have led to it's collapse," Belanger said.
The hearings will break for three weeks to allow the legal teams involved to regroup and see their families.
The break will also give the community of Elliot Lake a chance to remember the tragedy.
"I can assure you that the Elliot Lake tragedy and the senseless deaths of Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Alywin will be very much on our minds on the 23rd of June … wherever we physically may be."
When the inquiry resumes in July, the commission will hear from members of the Nazarian family, who owned the mall when the roof collapsed.
Then it will look at the rescue efforts in the days after the roof fell.
Schedule of upcoming testimony
Dates (subject to change)
PART ONE - COLLAPSE
Rick Hamilton, Mayor, City of Elliot Lake
July 8, 2013
Antoine-René Fabris, Lawyer, retained by Eastwood Mall Inc.
July 9, 2013
Lesley Sprague, Clerk, City of Elliot Lake
July 10, 2013
Dale Craig, Expert, Engineer, J.L. Richards
July 10, 2013
Roger Jeffries, Engineer, Ministry of Labour
July 11, 2013
Ashley Sherrard, Broker, EIR Investments Inc. Brokerage
July 12, 2013
Elaine Quinte, Owner, Hungry Jack's, tenant in Mall
July 12, 2013
Levon Nazarian, Leasing manager and real estate advisor, Eastwood Mall
July 15-18, 2013
Bob Nazarian, Owner, Eastwood Mall
July 23-26, 2013