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Verdict expected Thursday for former engineer charged in northern Ontario mall roof collapse

Robert Wood, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., had pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death and a third count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
Robert Wood, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., had pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death and a third count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. Colin Perkel / File / The Canadian Press

A discredited former engineer who signed off on the health of a northern Ontario mall just weeks before it collapsed in June 2012 finds out Thursday if he bears any criminal responsibility for the two women who died in the rubble.

Robert Wood, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., had pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death and a third count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

The maximum sentence for criminal negligence causing death is life in prison.

READ MORE: Human failure led to deadly Elliot Lake mall collapse: report

If Superior Court Justice Edward Gareau does pronounce him guilty of the charges, Wood plans to argue in July that the proceedings should be halted because the matter took too long to get to trial, in violation of his charter rights.

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Initially, the stay application was to have been heard on Thursday. However, Gareau, who reserved his decision in February, recently contacted the parties involved to say he had reached a verdict and wanted to deliver it as soon as possible, Wood’s lawyer Robert MacRae said in an interview on Wednesday.

“The argument behind the stay is that the time between the laying of the charges and the conclusion of the trial is excessive,” MacRae said from Sault Ste. Marie. “We’re coming up on the fifth anniversary of the collapse.”

READ MORE: Charged engineer wants parts of Elliot Lake mall-collapse judicial report kept secret

On June 23, 2012, part of the rooftop parking garage at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., crashed into the shopping area below. Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, were killed while Jean-Marie Marceau, 80, was badly hurt.

Police charged Wood criminally in January 2014. The prosecution then pushed to put on hold charges that had been previously laid in April 2013 under provincial worker-safety rules pending disposition of the criminal charges. The general rule is that 30 months is the longest it should take for someone charged to be tried in Superior Court.

The stay application is currently set to be heard July 25, if needed.

READ MORE: Engineer charged with negligence in Elliot Lake mall roof collapse

Evidence at a lengthy judicial inquiry was that supporting beams at the Elliot Lake mall had rusted through after decades of rain-water penetration. Wood inspected the building in 2009 and again in 2012 in the weeks before the collapse.

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In May 2012, Wood told the mall’s owner that steel supports at the shopping centre showed surface rusting, but were otherwise “structurally sound.” He later admitted changing his final inspection report after his partner had signed off on it to delete photographs of a corroded steel beam and yellow tarps strung to collect water leaking into a mall store.

Wood, now in his mid-60s, was stripped of his professional engineering licence in November 2011 after admitting to misconduct unrelated to the mall and is now retired.

He testified both at the inquiry and during his trial that he saw nothing to indicate any imminent danger existed.

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