The inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall is expected to hold its first public event in Elliot Lake, Ont., in the middle of next month, one of its lawyers said Monday.
The aim is to give people in the town a chance to meet Commissioner Paul Belanger, who will also try to meet privately with those directly affected by last month's tragedy.
"The idea was to go up to Elliot Lake as soon as possible so that the commissioner, his counsel and staff can be introduced to the community and we can answer any questions from them," commission spokesman Bruce Carr-Harris said in an interview.
"If there was an interest from the families who've been traumatized or victimized, if they would like to speak to him privately, he's quite open to that."
Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, were killed and 20 others were hurt when part of the mall's roof crashed into the shopping centre on June 23.
Tragedy waiting to happen
The inquiry has a maximum of 18 months to investigate and report back on events surrounding the collapse, the deaths and injuries, and the emergency management and response.
The order-in-council signed July 19 also directs the commission to delve into relevant legislation and policies related to the mall's structural integrity and the response to the tragedy.
Residents had complained the mall — a main community hub — was in such a poor state of repair, it was a tragedy waiting to happen.
Some also complained the rescue effort was bungled, with the search for survivors called off just hours after signs of life were detected, only to resume after a call from Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Provincial police are in the middle of a criminal probe into the tragedy, and the order-in-council directs the inquiry to avoid laying civil or criminal blame, and to ensure it does not "in any way interfere or conflict with" the police investigation.
That could be tricky, Carr-Harris said.
"The instinct will be not to get involved in theirs and them not in ours, but you never know," he said. "Hopefully nobody finds our commission interfering with them."
The start date for the actual hearings has yet to be determined, although most of them will be held in Elliot Lake, a relatively isolated community of about 12,000 between the northern Ontario cities of Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.
The first steps are to start amassing relevant documents and hold hearings into who gets standing — and funding — at the inquiry.
"It's a sizable undertaking," Carr-Harris said. "We're not going to be able to dawdle."
Carr-Harris — who has worked on judicial inquiries into the tainted-blood supply, the Somalia affair, and the wrongful conviction of Guy-Paul Morin — is one of three veteran lawyers from Ottawa appointed by Belanger as commission counsel.
Peter Doody and Mark Wallace are the other two.
Like Carr-Harris, Doody is a partner with Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. He was counsel to former Prime Minister Jean Chretien at the Gomery Inquiry, and also part of the Arbour Inquiry into events at the Prison for Women in Kingston, Ont.
Wallace, a partner at Carroll and Wallace, has served as counsel at the Arar Inquiry and the Cornwall Public Inquiry. He also acted during hearings by the Military Police Complaints Commission into the transfer of Afghan detainees by Canadian Forces.