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Engineer didn’t check for right materials on stage that collapsed, inquest hears

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  • TORONTO — An engineer who approved the plans for a stage that collapsed before a Radiohead concert in Toronto didn’t check that the right materials were being used to support the roof because he trusted the contractor, a coroner’s inquest heard Friday.

    Domenic Cugliari testified at an inquest into the death of Scott Johnson, a drum technician who was killed when the structure came crashing down just hours before the show was set to start on June 16, 2012.

    Cugliari said he visited the site where the stage was being constructed on the two days leading up to the show, but didn’t closely examine a critical component of the roof to ensure it matched the plans. He said he looked up at the pickup trusses from the stage floor and believed they were the correct size.

    In fact, the four pickup trusses — metal structures bearing the weight of the roof grid — were thinner than what the plans called for, which meant they couldn’t handle the load placed on them, he said.

    “I couldn’t distinguish between the two-inches and the three-inches, so I thought it was the right one,” he said. “I relied on the contractor.”

    The three-inch pickup trusses could each bear up to roughly 7,700 kilograms, he said. But the two-inch ones that were used could only handle up to about 3,600 kg, he said.

    Cugliari told the inquest that his colleague, another engineer, visited the site the day of the show after the contractor expressed concerns that one of the secondary trusses making up the roof grid appeared to be bending slightly once it was loaded with stage equipment.

    He said his colleague assessed the bend — called deflection — from the ground and deemed it to be within the acceptable range. But under questioning from the coroner’s counsel, Deanna Exner, Cugliari acknowledged it was unlikely that could be determined by the naked eye at such a distance.

    Cugliari, contractor Optex Staging and the show’s promoter, Live Nation, were charged under provincial health and safety laws in connection with the incident but the case was halted because it took too long to get to trial.

    The case was thrown off course when the presiding judge was appointed to a higher court, prompting another judge to declare a mistrial. The court eventually agreed with the defence that the delays had violated the accused’s rights to a timely trial.

    The inquest, which began Monday, will examine the circumstances around Johnson’s death but cannot assign blame. Jurors may make recommendations aimed at preventing such incidents in the future.

    Cugliari, who was a certified engineer at the time but has since retired, reviewed and signed off on the plans for the Radiohead stage. The plans were drawn by a designer who worked with him after they received conceptual instructions from Optex more than a week before the show, he said.

    In his testimony Friday, Cugliari said the plans contained “very sloppy” mistakes.

    The plans didn’t spell out how to attach beams to the trusses in the roof grid and included “conceptual drawings” that should not have been submitted to the contractor, he said. There were also inconsistencies that would likely have been caught if another engineer had reviewed the documents, he said.

    Cugliari suggested he may have gotten complacent because he was working with Optex, a client he knew well and trusted.

    “It’s easy to miss something like this because you know the people putting (the stage) up,” he said.

    Aside from having a second engineer look over any plans, Cugliari said it would also help to have an engineer on site for the entire construction of such stages.

    Had that happened, “we would have seen the critical components before they actually got lifted,” he said. “If I had seen (the pickup trusses) at ground level, it would have raised a red flag … this is not the right truss.”

    He said there should also be a way for engineers to examine the roof once it is lifted in place, either by building scaffolding stairs into the wings of the structure or by asking those trained to climb the scaffolding to take pictures.

    The inquest previously heard from a Ministry of Labour engineer who helped investigate the collapse, who testified the pickup trusses were “the weakest link” in the setup. Saeed Khoorsand said the pickup trusses were the first pieces to fail as the roof gave way.

    The inquest continues Monday.

    Paola Loriggio , The Canadian Press

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    National

    Canada-China relations hit ‘rock bottom’ and at ‘freezing point’: Chinese envoy

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  • OTTAWA — China’s ambassador to Canada says the bilateral relationship is now at “rock bottom” compared to any time since diplomatic ties were first established decades ago.

    In prepared text for a speech Thursday, Lu Shaye said he’s saddened Canada-China relations are at what he called a “freezing point.”

    Lu’s remarks come at a time of heightened tensions following the December arrest of Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an extradition request by the United States.

    The Huawei executive’s arrest has enraged China, which has since detained two Canadians on allegations of endangering Chinese national security, sentenced two Canadians to death for drug-related convictions and blocked key agricultural shipments.

    Lu did not mention Meng’s arrest — but he said the China-Canada relationship is now facing serious difficulties.

    He said China has long valued its relationship with Canada, particularly since it was one of the first Western countries to establish diplomatic ties with the Asian country.

    “For clear reasons, the current China-Canada relations are facing serious difficulties and are situated at the rock bottom since the two countries have established diplomatic relations,” said a copy of Lu’s speech, which was posted on the Chinese Embassy’s website.

    “It saddens us that the current China-Canada relations are ‘at a freezing point’ and face huge difficulties. The knots shall be untied by those who got them tied.”

    He continued by urging Canada to view China’s development in a “fair and objective” manner and to respect its concerns. Lu also warned Canada to “stop the moves that undermine the interests of China.”

    In recent months, Beijing’s envoy has used strong words when talking about the relationship. In January, he told Canadian journalists that Meng’s arrest was the “backstabbing” of a friend and said it was evidence of white supremacism.

    Lu also warned of repercussions if the federal government bars Huawei from selling equipment to build a Canadian 5G wireless network.

    He made the remarks in Toronto at an event hosted by the Globe and Mail. The document said former prime minister Jean Chretien was in attendance as was Darryl White, chief executive of BMO.

    The Canadian Press

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    Environment

    Keep guard up against hurricanes in 2019, as risk remains potent: forecaster

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  • HALIFAX — It has been years since a major tropical storm wreaked havoc in Canada, but the Canadian Hurricane Centre is warning against complacency.

    The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its hurricane outlook Thursday, predicting nine to 15 named storms this season, with four to eight becoming hurricanes and two to four being major hurricanes.

    Bob Robichaud of the Canadian centre noted that’s similar to last year’s hurricane season, when only two storms hit Canada, including post-tropical storm Chris, which made landfall in Newfoundland in July 2018.

    However, Robichaud warns that some Atlantic Canadians may be forgetting storms like post-tropical storm Arthur, which snapped trees and caused massive power outages in 2014, and hurricane Juan’s widespread wrath in 2003.

    And he reminded journalists attending a briefing in Halifax about hurricane Michael, which flattened parts of the Florida panhandle last October.

    The Halifax-based centre has created a fresh smart phone app, and recommends people begin tracking storms as soon as they start and then monitor for shifts in direction and intensity.

    “What we advocate is for people to really stay in tune with weather information because the forecast can change as the storms are approaching,” Robichaud said.

    Robichaud says studies show that complacency levels rise about seven years after a storm like hurricane Juan, and that as a result people do less to prepare.

    “People tend not to take any preparedness action if they haven’t had any kind of hurricane in recent years,” said Robichaud, a warning preparedness meteorologist.

    “For us it’s been five years since any major impactful storm … so it’s even more important to take the necessary precautions to get ready.”

    The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo has published a simple guide for Canadians on basic measures to take to prepare in particular for flood risk from extreme weather.

    The centre has repeatedly pointed out that without basic measures, basement flooding can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage during hurricanes.

    Its publications include a Home Flood Protection Program that begin with such simple steps as testing sump pumps, cleaning out eaves troughs and maintaining backwater valves.

    More advanced measures include removing obstructions from basement drains and creating grading to move water away from homes.

    The hurricane season runs from June 1 to early November.

    Robichaud said hurricanes tend to “feed on” warmer waters, and as result the centre is closely monitoring those trends.

    The meteorologist said as summer progresses it’s projected the water will warm in the eastern Atlantic and become warmer than average.

    In addition, Robichaud said the Atlantic Ocean continues to be in an overall period of high hurricane activity that hasn’t yet come to the end of a cycle.

    — Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.

    Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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