Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Anger, Grief Emerge at Mall Collapse Meeting in Elliot Lake, Ont

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Anger, Grief Emerge at Mall Collapse Meeting in Elliot Lake, Ont

Article excerpt

Anger, grief at Elliot Lake mall meeting

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ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. - Residents of this northern Ontario community stood at microphones Wednesday to express frustration, anger, and above all the profound sense of loss caused by the collapse of the town's mall.

The lingering grief was palpable at an informal public meeting of the judicial inquiry they hope will explain why the tragedy struck them almost two months ago.

As Commissioner Paul Belanger listened, several residents spoke as if the family home had burned down.

"The emotional impact is going to be long-term for many people in this community," said long-time resident Fran Perkins, who was in the mall on June 23.

Speakers noted just how central the mall was to their daily lives -- as both a shopping destination but also a favoured place to meet, exchange chat, share a coffee, or catch up with the world at the library.

The partial collapse of the rooftop garage not only killed two people, it also destroyed 60 per cent of the town's retail space, including several lower-cost stores.

Some residents noted that scores of younger people had lost their jobs, while others talked about the difficulty and expense of getting to surrounding communities to buy everyday items such as socks or underwear.

Formal hearings are expected to begin early next year as the commission seeks to find out why Algo Centre Mall collapsed and the emergency response, and to make recommendations aimed at preventing a recurrence.

In his opening remarks, Belanger said the inquiry's task is to find out what happened, but not to assign blame.

"This distinction can be frustrating for members of the public who want to see the perceived wrongdoers penalized," Belanger said.

"Punishment or penalty may follow but not as part of the public inquiry itself."

Belanger also expressed his condolences to the community, saying the tragedy "shook all Ontarians and all Canadians."

For Gary Gendron, whose fiancee Lucie Aylwin, 37, died in the rubble, the loss has only become more acute.

"It's harder now than what it was when they took her body out on the 27th of June," Gendron said after the meeting.

"It's setting in that she's not coming back home. …

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