According to a scathing judicial inquiry report, the deadly cave-in of the Algo Centre Mall in northern Ontario two years ago was the result of neglect, incompetence, dishonesty and greed by the long parade of owners, engineers and municipal officials over several decades. The scathing report says that everyone involved simply allowed the structure of the mall to rust to the point of collapse. While some of the failures were minor, others were major, and they all demonstrated a startling level of “apathy, neglect and indifference through mediocrity, ineptitude and incompetence, to outright greed, obfuscation and duplicity.”
In June 2012, the mall’s rooftop parking deck on the mall collapsed into the mall after decades of water and salt penetration finally took their toll. Two people were trapped in the rubble and died; 74-year-old Doloris Perizzolo and 37-year-old Lucie Aylwin, while 19 others were injured. According to the report, the events that led to the disaster began to happen back in the 1970s, when the mall was in its planning stages. They note that putting parking on the roof was a bad idea in and of itself, but that it was made worse by a defective roof design and the use of untested materials in the creation of the parking lot.
Over its 33 year existence, the building received extensive scrutiny from architects and engineers, leading to nearly 30 visits, inspections and reports from various experts and agencies. Unfortunately, none of these resulted in any sort of fix for the leaks that were so common that many referred to the centre as the “Algo Falls.” Experts seemed to ignore the “moral and ethical foundation” of their vocation, as well as failed to realize the effect of the rust on the integrity of the mall’s structural steel, according to the report, which suggests that engineers performed inspections that were “so cursory and incomplete as to be essentially meaningless,” and that they were more concerned with making the clients happy than protecting the public.
The report was especially harsh in its criticism of Robert (Bob) Wood, the last engineer who signed off on the structural stability of the mall just a few weeks before the collapse, and whose work and conduct were described as “markedly inferior.” Previously, Wood, who is facing criminal charges in connection with the collapse, admitted to falsifying his report to appease the owner of the mall. His inspection report was described as being “was similar to that of a mechanic inspecting a car with a cracked engine block who pronounces the vehicle sound because of its good paint job.” In addition, municipal officials ignored numerous public complaints and warnings regarding falling concrete and large leaks. Even the Ontario Ministry of Labour, which had offices in the mall, was unresponsive to numerous complaints.
The report makes 71 recommendations, include setting minimum maintenance standards for buildings, more inspections with more teeth, and an expanded emergency response capability, even though the one area of praise in the entire report was for the initial local emergency response. The Ontario government has promised a quick review of the recommendations.