Premier Dalton McGuinty is launching a public inquiry into a fatal collapse of a mall in Elliot Lake, saying families in the northern Ontario community deserve answers to “important” questions.
Mr. McGuinty made the announcement late Friday afternoon, about seven hours after New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath urged him to hold an independent inquiry and immediately release all inspection reports on the building.
The Algo Centre Mall collapsed Saturday afternoon, leaving two women dead and Elliot Lake’s commercial focal point buried in rubble. Mr. McGuinty personally delivered the news by telephone to the families of the two victims - Doloris Perizzolo and Lucie Aylwin.
“This is a difficult time for these families as they grieve their loved ones,” Mr. McGuinty said in a statement. “These families - and other Ontarians - have raised important questions that deserve to be answered.”
His government has an obligation, he said, to do whatever it can to prevent similar tragedies. Details about the inquiry will be announced later.
Ms. Alwyn, 37, was the first victim to be removed from the rubble on Wednesday. Hours later, the body of Ms. Perizzolo, who was in her early 70s, was recovered from the debris. Ms. Alwyn worked at the lottery kiosk in the mall part time.
Ms. Horwath said an independent inquiry is good news for the community.
“We owe it to the people who lost their lives, the people of Elliot Lake and all Canadians to take an independent look at everything that led to this disaster and everything that happened after,” she said in a statement on Friday.
The coroner’s office and the Labour Ministry launched separate investigations into the collapse on Thursday. But Ms. Horwath said an independent inquiry, she said, “is the only way to get all the answers.”
Mall owner Bob Nazarian told the Globe and Mail that the mall was inspected last month, and that inspectors found no problems. The city of Elliot Lake, which is responsible for upholding the building code and ensuring that the mall was structurally sound, has refused to release inspection reports or provide any details on what their officials found.
Ms. Horwath called on Mr. McGuinty to immediately release the inspection reports, saying the public has a right to know why problems at the mall were not detected.
“Despite promises of transparency, there are already concerns being raised about documents that aren’t being made publicly available,” she said in a news conference Friday morning.
The NDP has played a key role in urging Mr. McGuinty to personally intervene in the disaster. Mr. Mantha, whose northern Ontario riding includes Elliot Lake, made the two-hour drive from Sudbury to the city shortly after the mall collapsed at 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon and has been on the scene ever since. His own constituency office is in the mall.
When he learned that the rescue effort was suspended on Monday afternoon, he immediately contacted Ms. Horwath, who in turn began working the phones. She called Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office and Mr. McGuinty’s office, urging them to reverse that decision.
“We made sure we put it on the radar screen immediately,” Ms. Horwath said.
Mr. McGuinty asked rescue crews on Monday evening to try another way to reach possible survivors. Two bodies were pulled from the wreckage on Wednesday.
“I’m very concerned about the response all around,” Ms. Horwath said. “I think the people in that community deserves some answers.”