ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. - Many people had the opportunity to prevent the deadly collapse of a mall in northern Ontario last summer but failed to do so, the inquiry into the disaster heard Monday.

In his opening comments as the hearing kicked off, lawyer Doug Elliott said there were several causes for the collapse but the tragedy should never have occurred.

"A shopping centre mall should not just fall down," said Elliott, who represents local citizens.

"We thought someone would do something before it was too late."

The judicial inquiry under Commissioner Paul Belanger formally began hearings Monday into the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall last June 23.

The probe will also be looking at whether the emergency response to the disaster was adequate.

Two women — Lucie Aylwin, 37, and Doloris Perizzolo, 74 — were killed when part of the roof-top garage caved in at the mall, which was a critical hub for the one-time uranium boom town of about 13,000.

"It was the heartbeat of the community," said Roland Aube, a longtime town lawyer and Elliott's co-counsel.

The roof-deck collapse and deaths of Aylwin and Perizzolo, Aube said, was "a serious blow to the citizens of Elliot Lake and one many believe could have been prevented."

As relatives of the victims and a few members of the community looked on, Belanger stressed in his opening statement that the aim of the probe is to find out why the roof-top garage caved in, not to find blame or legal fault.

"This is not a trial," Belanger said.

That didn't stop Elliott from pointing out the mall had a history of problems no one seemed to address properly. Nor did anyone pick up on the critical structural problems — likely caused by road-salt compounded corrosion — until it was too late.

"This tragedy represents a failure of the engineering profession of Ontario," Elliott said.

In fact, Elliott said, many people had the opportunity to prevent the tragedy but "failed to do so."

The lawyer, also a longtime resident of Elliot Lake, said everyone appeared to miss an obvious solution to the problem: close the garage to traffic.

Instead, he said, a series of Band-Aid solutions was tried, but "none of them ever worked."

Elliott also said maintenance of the leaky roof declined under the last of the mall's three sets of owners, Bob Nazarian, who has insisted he was blameless.

He also criticized the "long delay" on coming up with an alternative rescue strategy when the initial approach was deemed unsafe.

The rescue effort drew widespread criticism when rescuers said they were giving up shortly after announcing they had detected signs of life in the rubble.

Doug Kearns, who represents a local group that owned the mall before Nazarian bought it, expressed concern the inquiry could further traumatize the community if not handled properly.

"I realize that come September, the rest of you will all be gone and we'll be left here," Kearns said, looking around the room.

"I hope that you will keep mindful of the fact that Elliot Lake does need to be a better place when you leave."

For those who continue to experience pain from the events of last June 23, Belanger said a quiet room had been set up on the third floor on the newly renovated office building in which the hearings are being held.

The inquiry is expected to hear from as many as 75 witnesses over the next several months, with the expectation Belanger will deliver his report and recommendations by January 2014.

Commission counsel Peter Doody filed 1,884 numbered exhibits Monday, many with hundreds of attachments.

The first witness — an engineer who will offer an overview of the designing and constructing of a building — testifies Tuesday.

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  • Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, left, greets people of the community of Elliot lake after speaking at a press conference regarding the rescue and recovery of two bodies at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, after the mall's roof collapse last Saturday. During his address to a small crowd of rescue workers and local officials, McGuinty said his thoughts were with the family of the two female victims, whom he identified as Dolores and Lucie.

  • The Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, remains unstable as efforts continue on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, after the mall's roof collapse last Saturday. Officials recovered two bodies after dismantling a piece of a partially collapsed Ontario shopping mall on Wednesday and said they are confident no other victims are inside. The renewed rescue effort came after angry residents shouted down fears that the unstable structure made the work too risky to continue.

  • Firefighters, left, carry a second body out of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, after the mall's roof collapsed last Saturday. Officials recovered two bodies after dismantling a partially collapsed Ontario mall on Wednesday and said they don

  • Rescue workers remove their hard hats as firefighters carry a second body out of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, after the mall's roof collapsed last Saturday.

  • Local residents react to the news that rescue workers have recovered a body at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, after the mall's roof collapse last Saturday.

  • Rescue workers wait to access the wreckage of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., early Wednesday, June 27, 2012, as cranes remove debris caused by the mall's roof collapsed last Saturday.

  • Rescue workers watch as a demolition crane tears into part of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario on Tuesday June 26, 2012. The controlled demolition on Tuesday night was part of a renewed bid to rescue any survivors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • A monument stands at a road entrance as a demolition crane tears into the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario on Tuesday June 26, 2012. Rescue workers are attempting an new plan to search for survivors after the mall's roof collapsed last Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • A by-stander reacts as a demolition crane tears into part of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario on Tuesday June 26, 2012. Residents of Elliot Lake, Ontario watched tensely as a massive robotic arm dismantled the facade of a mall that collapsed over the weekend, trapping at least two people inside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • Rescue workers watches a demolition crane as it tears into the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario on Tuesday June 26, 2012. Rescue workers are attempting an new plan to search for survivors after the mall's roof collapsed last Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • A rescue workers watches as a demolition crane as it tears into part of the Algo Centre Mall, in Elliot Lake, Ontario on Tuesday June 26, 2012. Rescue crews began dismantling a partially collapsed mall late Tuesday night in this northern Ontario city in an effort to rescue victims despite fading hopes of finding anyone alive. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • Local residents react to the news that authorities have called off a rescue bid for any survivors at the site of the collapsed roof of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, on Monday June 25, 2012 as the site is deemed to dangerous.

  • OPP officers inspect the damage from the roof as rescue workers continue attempts to secure the building before searching for any survivors at the site of the collapsed roof of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. on Monday June 25, 2012.

  • Local residents react to the news that authorities have called off a rescue bid for any survivors at the site of the collapsed roof of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, on Monday June 25, 2012 as the site is deemed to dangerous.

  • Missing victim Lucie Aylwin's father Rajean Aylwin (centre left) and boyfriend Gary Gendrom (right) react to the news that authorities have called off a rescue bid for any survivors at the site of the collapsed roof of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, on Monday June 25, 2012 as the site is deemed to dangerous.

  • A rescue worker walks towards the emergency staging post as attempts continue to secure the building before searching for any survivors at the site of the collapsed roof of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario on Monday June 25, 2012.

  • Local residents react to the news that authorities have called off a rescue bid for any survivors at the site of the collapsed roof of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, on Monday June 25, 2012 as the site is deemed too dangerous.

  • Police form a line outside the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario on Monday June 25, 2012. According to some residents a large number of miners are due to arrive from Timmins to join a locally planned rescue effort. Officials in Elliot Lake, Ont., say they are resuming rescue efforts at a partially collapsed mall after an appeal from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

  • Police officers talk in front of a emergency services tent next to the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario on Sunday June 24, 2012.

  • A man leans on a columns next to the collapsed roof of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. on Saturday June 23, 2012.

  • A man leans on a column next to the collapsed roof at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. on Saturday June 23, 2012.

  • A teddy bear with a handwritten note is seen near the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. on Sunday June 24, 2012.

  • A woman checks out the damage after a roof collapsed at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., Saturday, June 23, 2012. The partial collapse prompted a local state of emergency and a search for anyone who might have been injured in the cave-in.

  • The roof parking lot of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. is shown on Saturday June 23, 2012.

  • The collapsed roof of the Algo Centre Mall is seen from a nearby hill in Elliot Lake, Ont. on Sunday June 24, 2012.

  • <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLsIqo5aKr8&feature=player_embedded" target="_hplink">Source: YouTube</a>

  • <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLsIqo5aKr8&feature=player_embedded" target="_hplink">Source: YouTube</a>

  • Heavy equipment is used in stabilization and rescue efforts at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. on Sunday June 24, 2012.

  • Elliot Lake -- once an Ontario mining hub -- is located about 160 kilometres west of Sudbury.