August 1, 2012, Elliot Lake, Ont. – A public inquiry into the deadly collapse of a mall in northern Ontario is now expected to begin its formal hearings in January as provincial police announced Wednesday their examination of the rubble had ended.
Inquiry Commissioner Paul Belanger said the hearings into the June disaster in Elliot Lake couldn't begin sooner because of the "tremendous amount" of work that needs to be done beforehand.
"Large amounts of materials need to be gathered and analyzed," Belanger said in an open letter to town residents.
"I hope that you will understand."
Among other things, Belanger said, witnesses and other individuals have to be interviewed, offices set up and appropriate facilities in Elliot Lake organized.
In addition, hearings into who will be given standing at the inquiry still have to be held. Standing gives a person or organization the right to take part in the proceedings, access documents and question witnesses.
"The list of things to do is daunting and complex," Belanger said.
The commissioner is planning to hold an informal public meeting in Elliot Lake on Aug. 15, and will also meet privately with some individuals.
Belanger said it's important to hear directly from people about the impact of the tragedy on their lives and the community as a whole.
"It seems to me that understanding the scope of the impact upon the residents will provide a foundation for further avenues of investigation and inquiry," the commissioner said.
People can also share their thoughts with him in writing, he said.
Part of the Algo Centre Mall roof – which doubled as a parking garage – collapsed June 23, killing Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo. About 20 others were hurt.
The inquiry is looking into the circumstances of the collapse, as well as the emergency response, which some criticized as inadequate.
Police, who are conducting a criminal investigation, said Wednesday they had turned control of the mall over to the Ministry of Labour. Once the ministry probe is done, responsibility for the site will revert to the owner's insurance provider.
Residents with belongings still in the building were urged to contact the insurance company to retrieve them.
A class-action lawsuit has also been filed on behalf of the victims.
Belanger said he realized that some residents had sought legal advice regarding the collapse and said he did not want to interfere with that process.
"However, it would be most useful to the commission to hear from the people directly affected at the informal community meeting," he said.