Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty says he was shocked the rescue effort at the collapsed mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., was called off even though there was a possibility of survivors in the rubble.
Testifying on Wednesday at the public inquiry into the tragedy, McGuinty said he found it unacceptable not to keep trying.
His concern, he said, was that doing nothing meant certain death. He said he felt the community was owed another look at restarting the rescue.
Residents were stunned when the search was called off two days after the collapse in June 2012, but resumed after a late-evening call to rescue officials from McGuinty.
However, the effort came too late for Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin, who died in the rubble.
McGuinty, the final witness at the inquiry that began last March, has been answering questions about his involvement in the restart of the rescue effort during the June 2012 incident.
When rescue workers finally recovered the bodies of Perizzolo and Aylwin — days after the mall roof fell in — McGuinty, the Liberal premier at the time, pledged there would be answers.
“We need to carefully review how we responded to this tragedy,” he said during a press conference last summer.
“My undertaking to you and to all Ontarians is that we will learn any lessons there are to be found here.”
The inquiry has heard McGuinty urged the rescue commander to resume the search inside the mall.
Speaking with the public last year, McGuinty said:
“I reacted as all of you did, as all Ontarians did. So I phoned some of the folks in charge and said, 'Is there not something that we might continue to do. Is there not some other option that we might together pursue?'”
Bill Neadles, the commander in charge of the disaster team that deployed to the mall collapse, had just told the community the rescue was over because the building was too unstable.
Neadles testified that he agreed to find another way to reach the victims during a telephone conversation with McGuinty.
But in testimony Tuesday, community safety commissioner Dan Hefkey said the rescue would have resumed — even without McGuinty's involvement.
“The implementation of the plan that they were developing at the local level was going to occur,” Hefkey said.
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Following McGuinty's testimony, the commissioner will produce a report on what led to the disaster, and will make recommendations on how to prevent other such tragedies.