ELLIOT LAKE

'Somebody has to be responsible': Trial against last engineer to inspect Elliot Lake mall underway

The Crown gave a preview on Tuesday of how it will try to prove that former engineer Robert Wood demonstrated a "wanton and reckless" disregard for the lives and safety of others during his inspections of a northern Ontario mall before it collapsed in June 2012.

Robert Wood has pleaded not guilty to 3 counts of criminal negligence in connection with roof collapse

The trial of Robert Wood is taking place in Ontario Superior Court in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. He is accused of two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm in connection with the Elliot Lake mall collapse in 2012. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The Crown gave a preview on Tuesday of how it will try to prove that former engineer Robert Wood demonstrated a "wanton and reckless" disregard for the lives and safety of others during his inspections of a northern Ontario shopping centre before it collapsed. 

Wood was the last person to examine Elliot Lake's Algo Centre Mall before a portion of its rooftop parking deck caved in on June 23, 2012.

He also evaluated the structure in 2009. 

Crown attorneys Marc Huneault and David Kirk will argue that the inspector's work contributed to the mall's collapse, which killed two women — Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74 — and severely injured another person.

Long list of witnesses

Huneault and Kirk will call on a large number of witness groups over the coming weeks in an attempt to prove their case, including those who tried to bring attention to severe rust in the mall and major tenants and employees of the shopping centre. Also called to testify will be eyewitnesses of the roof collapse, Elliot Lake city officials, members of Wood's former engineering firm M.R. Wright & Associates Co. Ltd., and an expert from Professional Engineers Ontario.

The Crown attorneys will also bring forward a prospective buyer of the Algo Centre Mall, who alleges Wood warned it would cost $1.5 million to fix the structure's roof or it would cave in. 

Wood told a public inquiry that was launched into the disaster that he could barely recall any such conversation.

During the opening of the trial in Ontario Superior Court in Sault Ste. Marie, Wood looked straight ahead at Justice Edward Gareau as he pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

If convicted, he could face a life sentence.

'Definitely something was wrong'

Rejean Aylwin, Lucie's father, sat just a few rows away from Wood.

He came to see and hear what Wood was going to say, because he's still searching for answers about what happened to his daughter.

"A couple weeks before he was saying the mall was safe. And then two, three weeks after, it caved in," he said.

"Definitely something was wrong with it. A building doesn't rot in three weeks. He should get punished. That's for sure. But I don't know what he's going to get."
Rejean Aylwin, the father of Lucie Aylwin, one of the two women who died in the mall collapse, speaks to reporters before the trial. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Loss feels 'as if it were yesterday' 

Gary Gendron, who had been the fiancé of Lucie, is accompanying Aylwin to show support. 

"It's normal that you still feel it [the loss] as if it was yesterday," he said.

"Somebody has to be responsible for what happened in 2012."

Opening remarks were adjourned early after Wood's lawyer Robert MacRae asked for more time to review a photo that the Crown wants to use as evidence.

The trial resumes at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and is scheduled to last five months. 

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.