In the northern provincial town of Elliott Lake on May 15, the former head of a now defunct Ontario engineering firm will appear in court to face charges related to the June 2012 collapse of a local mall's rooftop parking structure that resulted in two deaths and other injuries.
Ontario's Ministry of Labor announced on April 22 that it had charged Robert Wood—a licensed engineer who had been president of M.R. Wright & Associates Inc., based in Sault St. Marie—with two counts of violating the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The two counts are endangering a worker as a result of providing negligent advice and “working in a manner that may endanger a worker.”
The parking structure's collapse caused metal and other debris to crash through two floors of the mall.
Wood and the firm's former engineering manager—Gregory Saunders, who had inspected the mall several weeks before the accident—sent a letter to the mall manager stating the facility was structurally sound, although they noted problems such as rust in the structural-steel members and leakage from the parking deck.
Wood is expected to plead not guilty, according to his attorney, Michael O'Neil, in comments last month to The Toronto Star. The newspaper reported that, if convicted, the engineer could face a fine of up to $25,000 and up to 12 months of imprisonment.
The newspaper also reported O'Neil was "shocked" that the ministry would charge his client while the province conducts a separate inquiry, launched in March, into the collapse of the 32-year-old mall's rooftop structure. The mall has been demolished.
Wood declined to respond to an inquiry from ENR. O'Neil did not respond by ENR press time.
According to the newspaper, Wood was set to testify next month before a Commission of Inquiry, which was set up by the province last July. Headed by Justice Paul Bélanger, the panel has a mandate to submit to the attorney general within an 18-month period a final report containing its findings, conclusions and recommendations related to the collapse.
The inquiry's ongoing first phase has heard testimony from several witnesses, including former mall officials, engineering firms and city officials. In defining the commission’s parameters at the outset, Belanger stressed that the inquiry is not a trial and that no criminal charges can stem from it.
Huntsville, Ontario-based Tulloch Engineering has since acquired the assets of M.R. Wright, according to a published report in Ontario.