Statement re: former engineer Robert Wood and the Algo Centre Mall case

On June 1, 2017, former engineer Robert Wood was acquitted of three charges of criminal negligence in connection to the 2012 Algo Centre Mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ontario.

Below is a statement from OSPE following the release of the results of the case.

The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) is the advocacy body for the engineering profession in Ontario. We are responsible for enhancing the reputation of engineers and ensuring they are consulted by government regarding public policy issues like infrastructure, energy, innovation, economic development and climate change planning, to name a few.

While the case involving former engineer Robert Wood and the Algo Centre Mall collapse in Elliot Lake exclusively involves the regulation and enforcement of the responsibilities of an engineer under the Professional Engineers Act, which is the sole mandate of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), public perception surrounding the results of the case has an impact on the reputation of all engineers in the province.

Therefore, as professional engineers tasked with representing our profession in Ontario, the OSPE Board of Directors would like to make our position on this issue clear.

  • We support the steps PEO is taking to reaffirm its role as regulator, working towards fulfilling Commissioner Bélanger’s recommendations outlined in the 2014 Elliot Lake Inquiry.
  • We encourage action on ongoing continued improvements that will help reinstate the public’s confidence in the profession, including the implementation of mandatory continuous professional development for all practising engineers in Ontario, and certification for structural engineers. 
  • OSPE believes that additional resources should be allocated for enforcement of the Act to support proactive follow up by the regulator and ensure that those with suspended licences cannot continue to conduct work under the pretense that they are a qualified engineer.  
  • Robert Wood was not a member of OSPE and his professional licence had been suspended by PEO.

Engineering is evident in all of the products that we use every day.  Ontario provides some of the very best engineering talent and our graduates are sought after by world-class companies.  Given the breadth of engineering disciplines and new fields of study, OSPE wholly supports the allocation of additional resources to support enforcement and mandatory professional development across all of these disciplines.  

Share your views with OSPE

What are your thoughts on this case and final verdict? How can Ontario prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future? What steps need to be taken to protect the reputation of the engineering profession in this province?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Paul Acchione

    It’s also time for PEO to consider imposing mandatory engineering quality assurance programs for public safety related engineering work. The aerospace and nuclear industries have already moved in this direction and their safety records are impressive.

  2. Darya Duma

    Perhaps a marketing campaign encouraging those requiring the services of a professional engineer, regulatory authorities providing permits and others like insurance companies to check the registry when engaging someone as part of due diligence. It is really so easy and takes 2 seconds. I imagine it will be a challenge for PEO to proactively police the misuse of the designation unless there is a complaint.

  3. Albert Schepers

    On the statement, I agree with all points, but the last bullet is not necessary as it adds nothing to the point being made.

    As an engineering practicing for over forty years, I have seen a shift in attitude, not the public perception of engineers but from governments and purchasers of our services. In both cases the shift is driven by an attempt to reduce risk of the purchaser of services from engineering companies. Governments impose ever stricter contract terms that are unattainable to all but a few large companies. Purchasing departments of private companies also impose onerous restrictions on engineering contracts based on their purchasing policies of equipment or supplies, not for professional services. There is then the trickle down effect: large engineering companies subcontracting engineering services imposing contracts that they themselves would not sign.

    As a profession the general public holds engineering in high esteem it is the buyers of our services that do not. Worse is that we as engineers do not respect what we do. The example of that is the Algo Center Mall collapse. Had he respected what engineers do he would have insisted his report stand and not altered it to suit the clients request.

    Before any changes to regulations will have any impact we, as engineers, as a profession, need to learn to respect what we do. We design beams and culverts easily but loose site that though it is simple the advice we give, the designs we do, are important. We need to insist that as a profession we are compensated properly for what we do then and only then can we provide the service that is demanded. We need to insist on terms that reflect what we do and not what the customer demands (when we park in a private parking lot or structure we are given terms and conditions with the privilege to use the space, we do not have the option of altering these terms). We need to establish our terms of service and not bend to terms that are not realistic. This includes NDAs and IP.

    Let us all start by taking pride in what we do and our profession; Let us not compete on price for work; Let us respect our fellow engineers; If terms and conditions are not reasonable then refuse the work. When we do, the necessary changes to the regulations will have more meaning.

    What happened at Algo Center Mall was tragic and the actions taken by engineers was a wake up call to our profession. Robert Wood is a name, an engineer, but this is about how we as a profession practice engineering and not about the event. It is about how engineering is carried out, the reports, the subsequent actions taken. Robert Wood could have been any engineer on any project. Let us not use Robert Wood as a scapegoat but rather let us reflect on what we do and how we do it and change. Not only our practices but our pride in the engineering profession.


  4. Louis M. Bernard

    In the case of former engineer Robert Wood, the CLIENT was pressuring him to approve the faulty construction. I personally have had this done to myself when a client asked me to FALSIFY my Technical Report to embellish his Mining venture, but instead of capitulating to the demands, I refused and was subsequently fired from the project. My complaint to the APEO went on deaf ears because the person retaining my services also had an Engineering Company and the APEO regarded this as more important than the illegalities that the perpetrator had tried to force on me.

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