ELLIOT LAKE

Professional Engineers Ontario reacts to exoneration of ex-engineer in mall collapse trial

The acquittal of a former engineer who was charged in connection to the deadly 2012 Algo Centre Mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont., has shocked many people, including the head of the organization that oversees professional engineers in Ontario.

Justice Edward Gareau said he could not find Robert Wood criminally negligent beyond a reasonable doubt

A sign that used to advertise the Algo Centre Mall still stands in Elliot Lake, Ont. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)
The acquittal of a former engineer, who was charged in connection to the deadly 2012 Algo Centre Mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont., has shocked many people, including the head of the organization that oversees professional engineers in Ontario.

"It did kind of surprise us given all the attention that the case has gotten," Professional Engineers Ontario registrar Gerard McDonald said.

"That being said, [Robert Wood] was being assessed to a criminal standard ... We'll have to accept what Justice Gareau found out in that regard."

Robert Wood was found not guilty of three counts of criminal negligence on June 1 in Superior Court. 

He gave the Algo Centre Mall a clean bill of health in April 2012 — two months before a rusty steel beam that was holding up part of the building's rooftop parking deck came crashing down on June 23. 

Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, were killed in the catastrophe, and more than 20 others were injured. 

Justice Edward Gareau criticized Wood for a number of oversights made during two examinations of the shopping centre in 2009 and 2012.

Implications for Canadian engineering?

Wood testified that he did not bring special equipment to measure the amount of rust in the Algo Centre Mall. 

He said he omitted the words "ongoing" and "particular concern" when describing water leakage in an edit of his final report on the mall's structure.

Wood also testified that he did not examine the steel beam in 2012 that eventually collapsed, even though he found the area to be of a concern in 2009 because of a lack of fireproofing.

Still, Justice Gareau told the court in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., that it is conceivable Wood lacked the judgment to declare the shopping centre's rusty, leaky walls unsafe, according to expert engineering testimony presented by the defence. 
Robert Wood walks to Superior Court in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on June 1 for his trial's ruling, in which he was cleared on three charges of criminal negligence in connection to the deadly 2012 Algo Centre Mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Although Gareau could not find Wood criminally negligent beyond a reasonable doubt, McDonald called Wood an "outlier" in his profession. 

"I certainly don't think that what Mr. Wood's did is a reflection on engineering in Canada," McDonald said.

"Our practitioners are very conscientious, and they do hold the public welfare in the highest of regards."

'We hope that something is learned from this'

The Algo Centre Mall disaster is a reminder that the duty of engineers is to uphold public safety, according to McDonald.

"We obviously never want to see something like this happen," he said.

"That being said, we are dealing with designing buildings and structures, and we have to make sure that they are safe. I think there is a responsibility there not only from the engineers, but every one involved with these structures."

McDonald said his organization has taken steps to improve the engineering profession by adopting recommendations from the Elliot Lake public inquiry.

It is asking the Ontario government for legislative clearance to put up disciplinary decisions online about its members, so the public can easily access them, McDonald said.

He added that professional engineers are also undertaking work to develop a standard for the inspection of existing buildings, and they have developed a practice evaluation and knowledge program for their members. 

"We hope that something is learned from this," McDonald said.

"Certainly, we have taken action to move in that regard. We want to have the public be able to have confidence in engineers and what we do."

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a national reporter for CBC Saskatchewan on secondment from CBC Sudbury. She covers news from across the province for radio, TV and online. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.