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Public inquiry kicks off into fatal Elliot Lake mall collapse that killed two

Debris outside Elliot Lake’s Algo Centre Mall. Two women died in the mall’s collapse in June.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario launched a public inquiry into the deadly mall collapse in Elliot Lake on Friday, kicking off a complex probe that could take more than a year to complete.

The inquiry will examine the events surrounding the collapse and look at government policies and procedures related to the mall's safety and structural integrity. It will also consider the emergency response after the mall collapsed, a release from the Attorney General's office said.

Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, were killed and 20 other people were injured after part of the mall's roof crashed into the shopping centre on June 23. The week-long rescue effort that followed was harshly criticized by residents and other observers for moving too slowly at first and for frequent confusion over who was in charge of decision-making in the rescue strategy.

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The inquiry will be led by Justice Paul Bélanger, a prominent Ontario judge who is also the representative for the Ontario Court of Justice on the Attorney General's French-language services committee.

Judge Bélanger is expected to assemble a team of lawyers to guide the public-interest-oriented investigation and gather evidence. Other parties can also request standing in the inquiry, allowing them or a lawyer to cross-examine witnesses and present submissions.

The Attorney General's office says the commissioner is expected to deliver a final report in 12 to 18 months, which will eventually be tabled in the legislature and made public. The province says a website will be set up to keep the public informed throughout the inquiry.

A criminal investigation into the incident is also under way, and a $30-million lawsuit has been launched that names the mall owner, the city and the provincial government. None of those allegations has been proved in court.

Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen has said the inquiry is expected to probe the events leading up to the tragedy and review the emergency response to the disaster, adding it may also raise questions about the role private owners play in maintaining their properties.

"We're doing everything we can to prevent tragedies like the one in Elliot Lake from happening again," he said in a statement on Friday.

"We've given Commissioner Bélanger a mandate to ask the kinds of tough questions about the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall that need asking. I look forward to his recommendations."

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