Secrecy at mall collapse inquiry

The owners of a mall that collapsed in northern Ontario this summer are asking a public inquiry to keep some of their documents secret.

A similar request has come from a professional engineering association related to complaints and disciplinary measures taken against two engineers involved with the Algo Centre Mall.

Normally, material deemed relevant to the proceedings would form part of the public record and one lawyer said secrecy could undermine the hearings.

The inquiry under Commissioner Paul Belanger has notified participants and media lawyers that they have the right to make submissions objecting to the confidentiality demands.

"This may go right to the root of the inquiry," media lawyer Paul Schabas said Tuesday.

"If there are issues about the competency or conduct of engineers, the confidentiality issues could go right to the heart of the purpose of the inquiry."

In their application, mall owners Robert Nazarian and his son Levon say they have given the commission sensitive financial statements they want kept out of public view.

The documentation was part of their Nazarians' request to prove to Belanger they needed taxpayers to pay for their legal help at the inquiry.

"There is a high expectation of privacy in relation to personal financial information," they argue.

In his funding decision, Belanger said he was not impressed with the quality of the material submitted.

"Applicants seeking funding must be forthright and provide the commission with a clear picture of their net worth," Belanger said.

"In my view, their evidence is wholly deficient."

Schabas said the public should know what informed Belanger's decision.

"Once you file something and you're asking for a commissioner to make a ruling based on some evidence, that evidence should be public so we can understand why he's going to give them funding or why he won't give them funding," Schabas said.

The inquiry is delving into the collapse of the mall in June that killed two women.

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