Minister's Progress Update to Commissioner Paul Bélanger
Today Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur sent the following letter to the Honourable Paul Bélanger:
Dear Mr. Justice Bélanger,
I would like to take this opportunity to provide you with a summary of our government's progress as we work to respond to the recommendations outlined in the final report of the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry, which you submitted to me on October 15, 2014.
I am pleased to report that we have worked closely with our municipal, building sector, professional engineers and emergency management partners to respond to the 71 recommendations outlined in your report.
The changes we have made to date are helping to make buildings across the province safer, strengthening our ability to respond to emergency situations, such as the one experienced in Elliot Lake, and improving the administration of public inquiries so they can be carried out as effectively as possible.
While the province has made progress on a number of your recommendations, we know that additional research, consultation and planning will help address the more complex changes called for in your report.
In the coming months, we will be implementing further changes to address the Commission's recommendations, and we will provide you with an additional progress update within the next year.
Below I have summarized our achievements to date and our next steps.
Enhanced structural safety
Shortly after receiving your report in October 2014, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing took steps to improve the awareness of municipal responsibilities under Ontario's Building Code Act by distributing an updated Municipal Councillor's Guide to all municipalities. In addition, Building Code training has been made more accessible to all municipal building practitioners, including building officials, by making it available online and at Ontario community colleges.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing established an expert panel with representatives from the engineering and architecture professions, as well as municipalities, to provide advice on ways to improve the safety of existing buildings.
This panel will advise government on how to improve the safety of buildings in Ontario, including what buildings should be subject to mandatory inspection and when. The advice from the expert panel is expected to be provided to government by the end of the year.
Ontario has already made a number of changes to help ensure buildings in Ontario are safe, including:
- Amending the Building Code Act to include a requirement that architects and/or engineers design large, complex buildings
- Improving the Building Code qualification process so that municipal building officials and other practitioners regulated by the Building Code Act register annually with the ministry
- Sponsoring leadership training for chief building officials in conjunction with the Ontario Building Official Association to strengthen capacity within municipal building departments.
In addition, work is also underway at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to explore potential amendments to the Building Code Act and the Building Code based on the other recommendations within your report.
For its part, the Ministry of Labour is working on a number of fronts to address the recommendations pertaining to structural safety, including creating new training materials to ensure ministry inspectors have comprehensive training on structural soundness, and water tightness. Training for inspectors will be initiated this fall.
Finally, the Ministry of the Attorney General is liaising with Professional Engineers of Ontario to enhance the performance standards for structural inspections as well as considering potential amendments to the Professional Engineers Act. Potential amendments include changes that would help ensure structural inspections are carried out by structural engineering specialists and regulating the engineering profession through a system of mandatory continuing professional education.
Improved response to emergencies
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services continues to lead our government's response to the recommendations pertaining to the emergency response following the Algo Centre Mall collapse. The ministry is working on options to improve responses to building and structural collapses and enhance the provincial capacity to respond in emergency situations.
Key changes to date include:
- Ongoing review of the province's urban search and rescue resources that helps locate and extricate victims in collapsed structures, provides immediate medical treatment to survivors and conducts other life-saving operations, to ensure that they are able to perform their functions
- Continuing to train Ontario Provincial Police officers in incident management - using a set of common terms, procedures and ways of responding to incidents to maximize coordination and effectiveness
- Running a large-scale provincial emergency management and heavy urban search and rescue exercise for emergency response providers that replicated the aftermath of an earthquake and included staged building and structural collapses. We note that this addresses 24 of the 71 recommendations
- Supporting municipalities that request help when dealing with incidents by deploying Emergency Information Liaison Officers who are available 24/7 to support staff from the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, or by providing assistance remotely.
There is ongoing work from other ministries underway to address the remaining recommendations with respect to improving the province's capacity to respond to emergencies.
The Ministry of Labour is working to clarify the roles and responsibilities of ministry inspectors and engineers at the scene of an ongoing rescue or recovery effort. It has recently launched a revised major incident policy and procedure, which provides guidance to inspectors on their role at a scene with multiple first responders. Training for first responders on this policy and procedure is underway.
As per the recommendation in your report, the Ministry of Labour is working with Section 21 committees to ensure that first responders are knowledgeable of the Ministry of Labour inspectors' roles during a crisis or emergency.
In the long-term, the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management is developing a proposal for an enhanced urban search and rescue response program across Ontario, and options for implementation are being developed. The Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management has also established a working group to review the Incident Management System. The Office recommends that the Incident Management System be a mandatory requirement of municipal and ministry emergency plans. A number of implementation options are under development by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Improved inquiry process
I would like to reiterate my sincere appreciation for your feedback on the policies and procedures my ministry has put in place to support commissions of inquiry as they carry out their valuable work.
Earlier this year, working in consultation with former members of the commission, the Ministry of the Attorney General updated its Public Inquires Guide. The guide includes an updated description of the role of the independent assessment officer and a commitment that, when imposing a deadline for an inquiry, the government will consider a reasonable period of time for the setup of the inquiry.
In addition, my ministry has developed a Protocol Respecting the Role of the Independent Assessment Officer, which outlines the role of the position and best practices with respect to public communications.
On behalf of the Province of Ontario, I would like to thank you, once again, for the important work of the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry and your unwavering commitment to the process.
Your advice has helped guide our decision-making as we continue to respond to the circumstances surrounding the Algo Centre mall collapse. Our focus is to make sure this tragic event is not repeated. With your help, we are building a safer, stronger province -- for the people of Elliot Lake and all Ontarians.
As we continue our work to explore taking action on the other recommendations in the report, we will keep the Commission and the public updated on our progress.
If you have any questions about our government's next steps, or would like to discuss any of the above further, please contact my office directly.