'More can be done:' Group seeks stricter engineering rules following mall collapse ruling

An advocacy group is calling for tighter engineering regulations following the trial of a former engineer, who was recently found not guilty of criminal negligence in connection to a deadly 2012 mall roof collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont.

Ex-engineer Robert Wood was found not guilty of criminal negligence on June 1

Rescue workers stand in a line and remove their hard hats as firefighters carry a second body out of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., on June 27, 2012. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

An advocacy group is calling for tighter engineering regulations following the trial of a former engineer, who was recently found not guilty of criminal negligence in connection to a deadly 2012 mall roof collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont.

"More can be done to reinstate confidence in the profession," said Jonathan Hack, chair and president of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers.

"We want to ensure that Ontario engineers are thought of as leaders globally in innovation and in the practice of engineering."

Hack said his organization is concerned about public perception surrounding the results of Robert Wood's trial, and how it could impact the reputation of all engineers in the province. 

Wood's engineering licence was suspended at the time he visually inspected the Algo Centre Mall in April 2012 and declared it structurally sound.

Two months later, a heavily corroded steel beam gave way causing the partial collapse of the shopping centre's rooftop parking deck on June 23.

Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, were killed, and more than 20 other people were injured.

Should continued professional development be madatory?

Wood was acquitted of three charges of criminal negligence in connection to the disaster on June 1.

Justice Edward Gareau told the court it is conceivable Wood did not believe there were structural issues with the Algo Centre Mall based on expert engineering testimony presented by the defence, and that Wood's understanding would have been out of "poor judgment" not malice. 

The outcome of the Wood's trial should prompt engineers to take a step back and look for ways to improve their work, according to Hack.

Specifically, Hack's organization is calling for continued professional development to be made mandatory for all practicing engineers in Ontario.

"It ensures that you're current in your training," Hack said.

"Technology evolves, standards evolve and it ensures that the engineer that's doing the work would be most familiar with current standards and practices."

The organization that oversees engineers in the province, Professional Engineers Ontario, implemented a voluntary practice evaluation and knowledge program last April for people renewing their licences. 

Members voted against making such a course mandatory in past referendums, according to registrar Gerard McDonald, but he said that issue may be revisited once the program is reviewed in June 2018.

'More reactive than proactive'

The public can look up who took part in the course as well as an ethics webinar on the organization's website, McDonald added. 

Patrick Quinn, retired structural engineer and past president of the Professional Engineers Ontario, told CBC News he would like to see stricter guidelines and monitoring practices come from the regularly body that he once headed.

"I think, it requires much more than what Professional Engineers Ontario is doing at the present time," Quinn said.

"The situation there seems to be more reactive than proactive."

Quinn said all areas of engineering could benefit from improved professional standards to prevent people from being pressured by the cost of doing work, building owners or requirements.

"If you have a standard and it's been dealt with by the profession and recognized in the profession, and you go outside of that. If you decide, well, I'm not going to abide by that standard then it's a much more easy proposition to find you guilty of negligence," Quinn said.

"On the other side, it's possible for you to tell your client this is what the profession demands, and I'm a professional and that's what I'm going to do."

Hack's organization is also calling for additional resources to be allocated toward engineering regulation enforcement, especially to ensure that those with suspended licences cannot do work under the pretence that they are qualified engineers. 

More engineering regulation enforcement?

McDonald maintains his organization already has strong oversight that enforces any practice issues it becomes aware of on an ongoing basis. 

"Any time there's more resources offered, I would love to see it," McDonald said.

"But that being said it's uncertain whether that would change any results out in the field."

McDonald said the organization strives to do more with what it has, and is always looking for ways to improve its services to its members and the public. 

It also continues to reflect on the deadly 2012 Algo Centre Mall collapse. 

"We want to learn from this experience," McDonald said.

"We think we're on the right track as a profession, and we want to instil in the public the trust in the engineering profession."


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: