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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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Ethics commissioner ready to testify to committee today: NDP critic

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Mario Dion

OTTAWA — The NDP’s Charlie Angus says he expects ethics commissioner Mario Dion to be in a position to testify today before a parliamentary committee about his findings on the prime minister’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act.

But whether the House of Commons ethics committee moves ahead with the study of Dion’s report rests in the hands of the Liberal MPs who hold the majority of seats.

Dion released a scathing report last week that concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached a section of the ethics code by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end criminal proceedings on corruption charges against a Montreal engineering giant, SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau has said he disagrees with, but accepts, the report’s findings and was just acting to protect Canadian jobs.

Dion also disclosed that he couldn’t properly get to the all the information he required, as potential witnesses and Trudeau’s office claimed cabinet confidence stopped from them from sharing everything they knew.

Angus, who serves as his party’s ethics critic, said Dion should be allowed to testify because that’s part of his job, adding it would be “extraordinary” for the Liberals to refuse to hear from him.

“This is a very important report, it is a very damning report and it also raises questions about the fundamental powers of the ethics commissioner in terms of the interference and obstruction that was laid in his path by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council,” he said.

Trudeau has shown a complete disregard for the rule of law, Angus added, noting that’s what got him into trouble.

“His disregard for the findings of guilt are equally troublesome,” he said. “I think he needs to really grow up and assume the role of prime minister here and not just a public figure who thinks he’s impervious to accountability.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his call for the Liberals to put partisan interests ahead of their own and let the study proceed.

“We will learn today whether or not scandal and corruption is limited to just the Liberal party’s leader in the form of Justin Trudeau, or whether or not this rot has infected the entire Liberal caucus and the entire Liberal party,” Scheer said at an event in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Scheer said that if the study fails to go ahead, he hopes to be able to convince voters to hold Trudeau accountable on voting day this October.

“We cannot have a lawmaker who is a lawbreaker.”

Trudeau has suggested voters want to move on.

A new poll suggests Dion’s report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall, nor has it helped the Conservatives.

Indeed, the Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite Dion’s report, and Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the affair.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population; it cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Angus said he thinks it is unhelpful to apply the frame of a political horse race to a question of the rule of law.

“I’m less concerned about whether Mr. Trudeau is up one point or down one point,” he said. “My concern is if he interfered with a prosecution and we have to have some manner of accountability, whether it is him or for future prime ministers. Otherwise, we don’t have the rule of law in this country.”

The Canadian Press

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Country music star George Canyon to run for Tories in Nova Scotia

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George Canyon

OTTAWA — One of Nova Scotia’s best-known country music stars is walking on to the political stage.

George Canyon has announced he’s running as a Conservative candidate in the riding of Central Nova in the upcoming federal election.

His name was added to the Tory roster after existing candidate Roger MacKay dropped out this week, for what he said were “personal reasons.”

Canyon has won several Juno and Canadian Country Music Association awards for his work, and currently sings the national anthem at Calgary Flames games.

While his star is sure to add to the Conservative shine for this election, the riding is well acquainted with being a home for political stars.

Brian Mulroney ran from there to get a seat in the House of Commons after becoming leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s, and for over a decade it was home to Peter MacKay, who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May also attempted a run for the seat in 2008, but lost to MacKay.

He held the riding until stepping down ahead of the 2015 election, and the seat fell into the hands of Liberals as part of a red sweep of the Atlantic provinces.

But the Tories count Central Nova among the seats they intend to recapture this fall, thanks in part to what they say are candidates with strong ties to the area, including three local members of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has made multiple stops in the Atlantic provinces already this summer, and for his part, Canyon said he’s eager to get going.

“Over the next nine weeks, I’m going to wear the soles out of my boots as I work hard to show people here the type of representative and advocate I will be for them.”

The federal election takes place on Oct. 21.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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