Discredited engineer faces more tough questions from Crown prosecution

Discredited engineer Robert Wood enters his second day of cross examination this morning to answer questions about two inspections he conducted of Elliot Lake's Algo Centre Mall before it collapsed nearly five years ago.

Robert Wood testified he saw nothing that would have led him to believe mall was in structural distress

Robert Wood walks to Superior Court in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. He faces three counts of criminal negligence in connection with the 2012 fatal Elliot Lake mall collapse. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Discredited engineer Robert Wood began his second day of cross examination Thursday morning to answer questions about two inspections he conducted of Elliot Lake's Algo Centre Mall before it collapsed nearly five years ago. 

Wood was the last person to examine the shopping centre's structure in 2012, declaring it "structurally sound," just weeks before a portion of its rooftop parking deck caved in, killing 37-year-old Lucie Aylwin and 74-year-old Doloris Perizzolo. Wood evaluated the building previously in 2009. 

Crown prosecutor Marc Huneault spent most of Thursday morning going through the technicalities of Wood's mall inspections, focusing on why the engineer didn't take a second look at the structural beam that eventually collapsed in 2012.

For the last four months, Huneault has been calling witnesses who testified to the shopping centre's decline. They took pictures of buckets collecting water from the leaking ceiling, cracks in the walls and chunks of fallen cement. 

Robert Wood, a now discredited engineer, was the last person to examine the Algo Centre Mall, declaring it "structurally sound" just weeks before a portion of its rooftop parking deck caved in. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Wood was hired by the mall's owner at the time, Bob Nazarian, after city officials issued an order to have a certified engineer inspect the entire shopping centre, and correct deficiencies, including excessive rust.

On Thursday, Wood testified he got conflicting instructions about his duties, but he didn't ask the city to clarify.

He added that he had access to specialized tools from his engineering firm that measure degradation in areas where there is excessive rust, but during his 2009 inspection of the mall, he only brought a measuring tape.

On Wednesday, Wood testified he was told there had been leakage in the area that eventually collapsed by a lottery kiosk, but he said he was assured mall maintenance staff planned repairs and were working on a long-term solution. 

Huneault shot back by saying Wood made too many assumptions during his mall inspections, but Wood disagreed.

Duty to public safety

Wood testified he saw surface rusting at the mall, but no sign of long-term leakage or anything that would cause structural distress.

He was also asked by Huneault if he knew he had a duty to protect public safety when he conducted his mall inspections.

Wood replied yes, adding that he had been a professional engineer for 40 years before losing his licence shortly before his last inspection of the shopping centre in April 2012.

Wood was stripped of his professional engineer status after admitting to professional misconduct in regards to an unrelated bridge rehabilitation project. 

During his last visit to the Algo Centre Mall, Wood inspected yellow tarps — or "diapers" as he called them — hanging from the ceiling of Zellers. 

Missing photo of yellow hanging tarp

Wood took a photo of the scene, but later omitted it from his final inspection report at the request of mall management.

"I can't explain," Wood told the court. "I can't recall authorizing the removal of it."

Mall owner Robert Nazarian also asked Wood to change specific wording in the report, such as "ongoing leakage" to "leakage."

Wood testified that the request "did not modify the report in any shape or form."

Wood also spoke about a prospective buyer of the mall, Ron McCowan, who Wood said "fabricated" an alleged 2011 conversation they had about repairs to the building. 

The conversation was evidence introduced during the Elliot Lake Public Inquiry in 2013.

Conversation a 'fabrication'

According to McCowan, Wood said the shopping centre's roof would collapse if it was not fixed right away at a cost of $1.5 million.

But on the stand, Wood testified he did not know the cost to repair the roof, and had "no concerns" about the mall. 

"[McCowan] fabricated the whole issue as far as I understood," Wood said. 

Wood is the only person criminally charged in connection to the deadly 2012 disaster.

He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

If convicted, Wood could face a maximum life sentence. 

About the Author

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: