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Laura King   

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Oct. 12, 2014, Toronto – If a mall in small-town Ontario collapsed today, would the emergency response be any different than it was on June 23, 2012, in Elliot Lake? Probably not.

Oct. 12, 2014, Toronto – If a mall in small-town Ontario collapsed today, would the emergency response be any different than it was on June 23, 2012, in Elliot Lake?

Probably not.

Because – as far as I can tell, nothing has changed.

Except, of course, that fire chiefs in Ontario are far more aware now that they should keep detailed notes at major incidents (even use a scribe, if possible – lest they end up, months or years later, on a witness stand, trying to remember dates and times, conversations and decisions made under remarkable stress), make sure they control the flow of information, and keep everyone not directly related to the rescue behind the yellow police tape.


Maybe I’m just out of the loop and there’s all kinds of big-picture stuff going on in back rooms in advance of the release tomorrow of the report by Elliot Lake inquiry commissioner Paul Belanger into the collapse that killed two women, and the emergency response to it.

After all, the province said it in its final submission to Belanger last November that it was going to be proactive about improving the unwieldy provincial incident-command system, clarifying definitions and relationships among agencies, and making sure the role of the Ministry of Labour and its inspectors in a rescue was clear. (You can read all that here).

So, as you would expect, when Belanger said in September that the report would be released in Elliot Lake on Oct. 15, I tried to find out where things stand – whether the province had indeed contacted the groups involved in the development of the hefty IMS document for input, which is what it said it would do.

I asked a pretty basic question, first of the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM), then of one of the lawyers who helped to write the province’s final submission, and finally, of the ministry itself: What has the province done since the inquiry ended?

The replies? Well, they were consistent.

“Would not be able to comment on this at this time,” the OFMEM told me in an email.

Darrell Kloeze, a lawyer with the Ministry of the Attorney General said this: “I’ve forwarded your email to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and I trust someone will get back to you on your request.”

The ministry’s reply? “We will be a position to respond once the report is released.”

I didn’t ask what was in the report – that would have been foolish and futile. I asked what the province has done in the last nine months to deal with the issues that were raised in the inquiry and that it said it would address.

So, having been shut out by the province, I asked the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs if it had been approached by the ministry about reviewing the provincial IMS doctrine, as the province calls it, given the indications in the submission – which were later reiterated by Ontario Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek – that things would change before the release of Belanger’s report.

“No,” said OAFC executive director Richard Boyes.

I understand that key provincial officials were made aware of the report’s recommendations last week; clearly they’re all very busy reading the lengthy document. According to The Canadian Press, there are two volumes – the first, about the events leading up to the collapse, is 744 pages; the second, about the emergency response, is 642 pages.

I also understand that none of those key people will be in Elliot Lake Wednesday to explain what has, or hasn’t, happened in the interim or how whatever Belanger recommends might affect the province’s responders – fire departments, the HUSAR teams, the OPP and its search and rescue team, and the relationships among all those agencies and with the Ministry of Labour.

I asked the inquiry’s communications guy if there would be anyone in the 8:30 a.m. media lockup Wednesday at the Lester B. Pearson community centre in Elliot Lake to provide some analysis of the report and the recommendations.

No analysis, he said. Although the commissioner’s special advisor, Stephen Bindman (with whom I worked at Southam News in Ottawa when he was a legal affairs writer) will help reporters find the relevant sections in the massive documents.

“Might be wise to bring an extension cord,” he added.

Best reply I got all week.

(You can see the report online at at 11 a.m.)

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