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Ex-engineer loses bid to keep parts of Elliot Lake mall collapse report secret

Engineer Robert Wood apears at the inquiry into the collapsed mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., in a June 7, 2013 photo. The former engineer has lost his bid to keep parts of a report into the deadly collapse secret until after his criminal trial. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

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Engineer Robert Wood apears at the inquiry into the collapsed mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., in a June 7, 2013 photo. The former engineer has lost his bid to keep parts of a report into the deadly collapse secret until after his criminal trial. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

OTTAWA - A discredited former engineer has lost his bid to keep parts of a report into the deadly collapse of a northern Ontario mall secret until after his criminal trial.

The commissioner who presided over the Elliot Lake mall collapse inquiry dismissed Robert Wood's application Monday, writing that the open court principle is particularly important for public inquiries.

"Such a redaction order would prevent the publication of a possibly important and integral part of the report, which the public and community of Elliot Lake have been waiting for for over two years," Commissioner Paul Belanger wrote.

Belanger's commission of inquiry wrapped up public hearings into the June 2012 tragedy last October.

Among those testifying was Wood, who had attested to the structural soundness of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake in an inspection report he altered to downplay the building's state of disrepair. Weeks after that report, part of the rooftop parking deck caved in. Two women were killed and several other people were hurt.

Wood argued in his application for a publication ban that potentially adverse findings in Belanger's report, due by the end of October, could jeopardize his right to a fair trial on charges of criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm.

Although a commission does not lay blame as such, Belanger has already informed Wood he may make adverse findings against him.

Wood was concerned that Belanger's findings could taint the pool of potential jurors for his trial.

But Belanger sided with a trio of media organizations — The Canadian Press, the Globe and Mail and CBC — that opposed Wood's request, concluding that Wood failed to show that publication of the report would pose a serious threat to his right to a fair trial.

At this point Wood's trial is unlikely to take place until late 2015, at the earliest, Belanger wrote.

"Is it reasonable to keep an integral and significant part of the commission's report hidden all this time?" he wrote. "I think not."

Wood's attempt to keep parts of the report under wraps until after his trial "fails to take into account the realities surrounding jury selection," Belanger wrote.

Jurors are instructed to ignore media coverage. Wood also has the right to seek a change of venue for his trial. And by the time Wood's trial takes place potential jurors' memories "will undoubtedly have faded," Belanger wrote.

The commissioner also noted that Wood's testimony was open to the public, garnered a fair amount of media coverage, and is still available on the commission's website along with the rest of the evidence and submissions.

In addition to his criminal charges laid in January, Wood also faces mall-related charges from last year that he violated provincial health and safety laws.

Wood's lawyer, Rob MacRae, suggested an attempt to get the courts to overturn the ruling was unlikely.

"It's a well reasoned decision," MacRae said. "I have no instructions to appeal it."

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