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Former engineer loses bid to keep parts of Elliot Lake report secret

Emergency workers examine the parking lot at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., where a section of the roof collapsed killing two women in June, 2012.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

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 Bélanger wrote.

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

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

Mr. Wood argued in his application for a publication ban that potentially adverse findings in Justice Bélanger'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, Justice Bélanger has already informed Mr. Wood he may make adverse findings against him.

Mr. Wood was concerned that Justice Bélanger's findings could taint the pool of potential jurors for his trial. But Justice Bélanger sided with a trio of media organizations – The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press and CBC – that opposed Mr. Wood's request, concluding that Mr. Wood failed to show that publication of the report would pose a serious threat to his right to a fair trial.

Mr. Wood's trial is unlikely to take place until late 2015, at the earliest, Justice Bélanger 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."

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