Elliot Lake mall owner slammed by former manager

A former manager at the Algo Centre Mall accused its owner of ignoring orders to comply with the fire code, the Elliot Lake Inquiry heard Friday.

In her letter of resignation displayed at the inquiry, Henri Laroue laid out numerous grounds for quitting on May 3, 2011, one year before the mall's roof caved in killing two women.

Laroue was "disheartened" that mall owner Robert Nazarian's priorities "do not include a safe work environment," she wrote in regards to orders she alleges Nazarian gave her to ignore the fire code.

"We were trying to cut corner, it was management decision," Nazarian responded during testimony on Friday.

The fire department "every day, was sneaking into the mall, with permission or without permission, finding an excuse, giving us an order. 'Do it or else,'" he said.

During his testimony, Nazarian did concede to commission counsel Peter Doody that he did not comply with fire regulations for years.

Efforts to stop the mall roof from leaking had failed, Nazarian explained, so any new fireproofing would have washed away again.

Laroue also complained of being on call "24 hours a day, seven days a week, 358 (sic) days a year" for no extra pay, and cited threats of increased work hours as punishment for lateness.

"If I am sick one day, this day's pay is deducted from my pay," Laroue wrote in the letter.

In response, Nazarian, 68, of Richmond Hill, Ont., on his fourth day testifying in Elliot Lake, Ont., said his former employee was not being honest.

Laroue, who testified without a lawyer in May, also accused Nazarian in her letter of ordering her to break into a tenant's store to change the locks.

Laroue's remarks come a day after a stunning admission at the end of Thursday's testimony that Nazarian had $2.6 million from the sale of a property, but chose to spend it buying another property rather than fix the crumbling roof at the mall.

Nazarian said he had worked too long to save money for his family, and didn't want to throw it into what he called a black hole.

"[The] Algo mall was a black hole. That no matter how much money put in … even before I purchased that mall, [it] was doomed," Nazarian told the inquiry.

To which commission counsel Peter Doody said: "So you simply wouldn't put that money in."

Nazarian: "Simply, I would not put my life in it, no. I worked 42 years to gather some fund for my family. I'm not going to put everything in this building and … everything goes down the drain."

Until that point, Nazarian had insisted he was in desperate financial straits and unable to raise the cash needed to fix the crumbling mall.

Some residents of Elliot Lake, Ont., are not laying all the blame for their mall's deadly collapse last summer on Nazarian.

Elaine Miller said it's a "touchy situation" because the tragedy was 30 years in the making.

She said even town residents bear some blame because they always said the mall would come down some day, yet continued to go there.

Other residents, like John Pomerleau, said Nazarian should be charged criminally.

Nazarian faced further questions Friday about how aware he was of the structural condition of the building.

He still owns the land where the mall once stood.

The public inquiry was established in July 2012 by the Ontario government and has been underway in Elliot Lake since March.

It was created to report on events surrounding the mall roof's collapse on June 23, 2012, the deaths of Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo, the injuries to others, and the emergency management and response.

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