ONTARIO (Canadian OH&S News)
Fuelled by the deadly collapse of a mall last summer, Elliot Lake residents are demanding an independent probe into Ontario’s labour ministry.
The Elliot Lake Mall Action Committee, which is made up of a group of its neighbours, alleged that the provincial Ministry of Labour failed to prevent the roof collapse of the northern Ontario Algo Centre Mall, which crumbled and killed two women, a lottery kiosk worker and a shopper, and injured dozens of others in June of 2012.
Following the collapse, a public inquiry was launched. Though the results of that inquiry have yet to be determined, the Elliot Lake Mall Action Committee demanded on May 8 that an independent third party launch an investigation into the inner workings of the provincial labour ministry. The group alleged in a press release that ministry officials did not adequately address prior health and safety concerns, including a leaky roof parking deck.
Douglas Elliott, counsel for the action committee, noted in a statement that ministry officials did not do their due diligence in following up with the prior health and safety concerns voiced by the mall’s employees.
“We are calling on Minister Yasir Naqvi to bring in occupational health and safety inspectors from the federal government to thoroughly and impartially investigate his own careless officials and recommend charges or other actions if appropriate,” Elliott contended. “The assistant deputy minister may be satisfied with her performance, but the people of Elliot Lake are not.”
As well, the group has alleged that testimony heard at the inquiry from the labour ministry’s assistant deputy minister Sophie Dennis was a conflict of interest, as she is employed by the ministry and assessing its performance.
“Ms. Dennis had a clear conflict of interest in investigating the actions of her own officials,” John Pomerlau, the chair of the committee alleged in a statement. “Her investigation was cursory, and limited to a review of the reports filed by the ministry’s inspectors. Everyone has been thoroughly investigated by the Ministry of Labour, except the ministry itself. It’s not right.”
However, Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s labour minister, said that his office has and will fully co-operate with the commission in order to figure out what happened, and why.
“Like all Ontarians, I was deeply saddened by the tragedy that occurred in Elliot Lake and my thoughts are with the families and friends who have lost loved ones. The government has established a public inquiry to conduct an independent review of the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall, with broad terms of reference,” the labour minister said.