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Maintenance log cited for criminal probe of Elliot Lake mall collapse

Police and investigators head towards the Algo Centre Mall on June 29, 2012 in Elliot Lake, Ont.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The criminal investigation into an Elliot Lake mall's fatal collapse announced Tuesday stemmed from information about the building's record of unaddressed maintenance problems prior to the accident, an Ontario Provincial Police source said.

While the police force remains tight-lipped about the reasons for the investigation, the source indicated that the mall's condition, rather than any developments since the collapse on June 23, was the chief reason for the probe.

Officially, the OPP would not discuss its motivations.

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"I'm afraid I can't get into that because of the fact that any information we gather, we have to be careful with how we deal with it," said Sergeant Pierre Chamberland, adding that any information that could be presented in court must be handled with discretion.

The OPP was already assisting with a death investigation spearheaded by the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario. A criminal investigation indicates probable cause to believe wrongdoing has occurred.

Sgt. Chamberland was similarly reserved with the type of potential charges that might be laid, saying that this early in an investigation, they "would be from letter A to letter Z of the Criminal Code."

Anybody with information relevant to the investigation should contact an OPP tip line, he said.

Mall owner Bob Nazarian declined to comment when reached by telephone Tuesday.

"Unfortunately at this time I cannot comment at all," he said.

Elliot Lake deputy mayor Al Collett expressed his support for the police investigation.

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"The truth has to come out, one way or the other.… Now is the time for complete openness and transparency."

Two other investigations are ongoing: a probe by the Office of the Chief Coroner and an investigation by the Ministry of Labour.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has also promised a public inquiry.

The Globe and Mail interviewed several mall workers and patrons who gave accounts of the mall's persistent maintenance issues, including leaking ceilings.

One restaurant owner successfully sued Mr. Nazarian for more than $11,000 after leaks allegedly twice caused the ceiling over her food counter to collapse.

Doloris Perizzolo, 70, and Lucie Aylwin, 37, were killed on June 23 after the roof of the Algo Centre Mall caved in and plummeted two floors down into the building.

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With a report from Timothy Appleby

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