Elliot Lake residents need 'time to heal' after inquiry

Now that the public inquiry into last summer's roof collapse at the Elliot Lake mall is over, some in this small northern Ontario town say there is a sense of relief.

Planning has begun for a memorial for the two women who died in the Algo Centre mall collapse

The signs for the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake have now been covered up at the site where the collapsed mall once stood. The public inquiry into the fatal mall collapse wrapped up on Wednesday. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Now that the public inquiry into last summer's roof collapse at the Elliot Lake mall is over, some in this small northern Ontario town say there is a sense of relief.

For the past seven months, the community of Elliot Lake has heard sometimes shocking evidence about what led to and followed the Algo Centre Mall roof collapse on June 23, 2012. 

One resident, who was in the mall’s food court when the roof gave way, said he found it too difficult to listen to the months of testimony about what happened there.

Jean Marc Hayward was in the Algo Centre Mall when part of the roof collapsed. He says he's still trying to move forward.

“I’m trying to move forward. I’m trying to forget about it,” Jean Marc Hayward said. “I kept getting too many flashbacks.”

Hayward was blasted by dust and debris but, remarkably, walked out of the mall that tragic day.

He said he’s hoping the inquiry report will address some key questions: “What could have been done, what should have been done."

Memorial planned for two victims

The mayor of Elliot Lake said planning has begun for a memorial for the two women who died in the mall collapse.

Rick Hamilton said no decisions have been made yet on where a memorial will be located, but said there have been preliminary discussions with their families and city council.

“We want to make sure that the families are very closely knit to that decision,” Hamilton explained.

“Give it a little time to heal. Make sure it is appropriate. Make sure it is topical. Make sure it is in the right place.”

He said he expects a memorial will come together within the next year.

Future of mall site unclear

An empty dirt lot sits in the middle of town where the mall used to be and a sign for the stores that used to be in the mall is now covered with black tape.

Hamilton said the future of the site rests with owner Bob Nazarian.

“I really can’t say much about it, other than it's private property,” Hamilton said.

Elliot Lake Mayor Rick Hamilton says planning has started to build a memorial for the two women who died in the Algo Centre Mall collapse. (CBC)

“Of course, as a private property owner, he has certain requirements he has to live up to, and as far as I know, he has done that.”

When Nazarian returned to Elliot Lake in July to testify at the inquiry, he said he wants to build again on the site, but he has not responded to recent requests from CBC News for an update.

'People didn't do their jobs'

Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty was the last witness to testify at the Elliot Lake Inquiry. Hearings concluded on Wednesday. (Canadian Press)

The public inquiry's hearings wrapped up Wednesday with the man who called the judicial inquiry.

Dalton McGuinty, only the third Ontario premier or former premier to testify at a public inquiry in about 70 years, was the last of 125 witnesses to testify over 117 days during the hearings, which began March 4.

"All my political instincts told me that this warranted a thorough and thoughtful review," he said of his decision to call
the inquiry. "A search had been on, and then it was off."

He noted the inquiry is also addressing concerns about the availability of heavy equipment and expertise, especially in more remote areas.

One resident, Roger Hachey, said he thought McGuinty had come across as "really real" and "genuine."

Hachey also said he was glad the hearings were over, and was looking forward to the recommendations Commissioner Paul Belanger will make, likely next March, based on 28,900 pages of transcripts and 11,000 exhibits.

"People didn't do their jobs, provincially, municipally," Hachey said. "That's one thing that has to change: if you're in position of responsibility, do your job."

Scars will 'likely never be erased'

The inquiry previously heard how the poorly designed and built mall — a critical hub in the town of 13,000 — leaked from the get-go. No one, however, tackled the expensive-to-fix problem substantively and decades of water and salt penetration caused extreme rusting.

Ultimately, a single weld gave way, and part of the rooftop parking deck came crashing down.

Belanger will still hear from expert panels in November and December as he forges his recommendations.

"The scars left behind from the deaths of Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin will likely never be erased," Belanger said in his closing comments. "But still, one cannot help but admire the spirit of this community."

Darrin Latulippe, Perizzolo's son-in-law, who has been fiercely critical of the way the rescue was handled and relatives were kept informed about what was going on, expressed gratitude for McGuinty's participation.

He also thanked Belanger for "maintaining the dignity and respect of our lost loved ones."

With files from Canadian Press


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