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Commissioner slams collapsed mall engineer for request to preview report

OTTAWA - The discredited engineer who signed off on a northern Ontario mall weeks before it collapsed has blindsided the judicial inquiry probing the tragedy with a request to review a draft of its report, the commissioner said Thursday.

In a strongly worded order, Commissioner Paul Belanger said he had several concerns with the application from Robert (Bob) Wood, who faces criminal charges in the deadly June 2012 collapse.

Among them, Belanger said, was that Wood had changed his tack since his initial notice of application in which he said he wanted parts of the final report relating to him blacked out.

Wood, 65, subsequently asked to review the relevant sections of the final draft first, so he could then decide if he wanted to seek redactions without first informing the commission of the change.

Belanger is having none of the two-step approach.

"Mr. Wood's filed application is materially different from the one he advised commission counsel he would make," Belanger said.

"This attempt...creates an unnecessary and unacceptable delay."

Wood's case for potential redactions of any adverse findings in Belanger's report, due Oct. 31, rests on his belief they could jeopardize his right to a fair trial on charges of criminal negligence.

The 40-year engineer, who lost his licence unrelated to the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., testified at the inquiry to altering an inspection report to downplay the damage. He also reported the mall was structurally sound weeks before it collapsed, killing two women and injuring several others.

Police charged him criminally in January.

The commissioner noted Wood has already received a notice of potential misconduct findings against him, along with a summary of the evidence on which those findings would be based.

The notice should be enough for him to argue what parts of the report he might want blacked out without having to review them first, Belanger said.

The commissioner also criticized Wood's failure to respond to questions about his criminal charges, such as whether he had decided to be tried by a judge and jury, or by judge alone.

Belanger argued Wood had provided legally "inaccurate" information about the necessity for a preliminary inquiry on his criminal charges and when he can elect his mode of trial.

Finally, Belanger questioned whether he even has the jurisdiction to release parts of the draft report, given his mandate is to report to the attorney general, who in turn is to make the final report public.

In light of those observations, Belanger ordered Wood to file further materials to address the concerns by May 30.

A hearing on Wood's entire application remains scheduled for Ottawa on June 20.

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