Open letter to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson in wake of the Westboro bus crash

On the evening of January 11, 2019 an OC Transpo bus crashed into a shelter. An  overhang tore through the upper deck of the bus, killing three passengers and maiming many more. This tragic incident had troubling similarities with the September 2013 incident, when a train tore off the front of an OC Transpo double decker. In both cases passengers were flung from the vehicle to the ground below.

Three days after the crash a number of us, including many families affected by the Humboldt Broncos bus catastrophe, penned this letter urging Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson to invite the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to aid local police with the investigations, and urging Transport Canada to take a serious interest in road safety.

Special thanks to our Humboldt friends for their solidarity in supporting the Ottawa crash victims and the safe systems cause. As the Ottawa parent of two teenagers—a hockey-playing son, as it happens, and a daughter who played ringette for many years—I am deeply moved by the support of so many Humboldt Broncos victims including survivors, friends and families. Anyone who wishes to add their names to the letter can drop me a line here—or better still via the Twitter DM, which is open. I will do my best to keep posting as many names as you wish to provide.  – GL

[UPDATE: Within less than 48 hours of writing the 14 Jan letter below (preceded by messages by Dr. Ahmed Shalaby here and here) we won the campaign to bring the TSB on board. Ottawa’s Mayor and Police initially refused to bring them in, on the grounds that there was no crisis and that road safety was beyond the agency’s absurdly limited mandate. The city dug in its heels even after reading the plea below. On 15 Jan Transportation Safety Board (TSB) head Cathy Fox came onto the radio many times (as in this excellent Evan Solomon interview), questioning the safety of federally-approved double deckers in an Ottawa context. Fox repeatedly reproached Transport Canada (TC) for their failure to investigate passenger vehicle regulations in the wake of the 2013 Fallowfield double decker catastrophe, and for their general lack of attention to road safety. (TC head Marc Garneau was unavailable for comment.) That same day the Ottawa Police again refused the TSB’s offer of assistance, but on 16 Jan they relented and agreed to take advice. This is a satisfactory result, and an important precedent for road safety investigations in Canada. See tweets below the letter for a small sampling of these stories, including some Vision Zero Canada interviews.]

Dear Mayor Jim Watson, Mayor of Ottawa

We wish to offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the Jan. 11 Westboro bus crash, and sincere wishes for healing to the survivors, their families and the community at large.

A number of us have asked you, publicly, to invite the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) to lead the safety investigation of the Westboro crash.

The TSB’s practice is to work alongside the Ottawa Police Service, who would remain in charge of the crash reconstruction and the criminal investigation should criminal or negligence charges be laid.

This call comes after careful thought and consideration of the state of road transportation in Canada, including very painful personal experiences. Our collective resolve, in the memory of loved ones who were victims to road crashes, is to ensure that all Canadians are offered the maximum possible level of safety.

We have been disappointed by the missed opportunities to advance road safety and the many lives lost or severely altered because we have failed to learn from past mistakes.

In the wake of yet another preventable tragedy, the Ottawa victims, along with their friends and families, are heading down a painful and familiar path. We need only recall the 2008 Bathurst, NB, 15-passenger van crash; the 2013 OC Transpo-VIA Rail crash; and most recently the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash, to name just a few in recent years.

In each of those events there is evidence of lax regulation, inaction, and failure to protect road users on many levels. This tragic status quo needs to change.

There will probably never be a case that is more compelling than the recent OC Transpo crash to invite the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) to lead a full and thorough investigation. Here are our reasons:

1. The TSB offers the highest level of transportation safety investigation in this country. An investigation of a bus carrying 90 passengers is no less serious or significant than a crash of an airliner or a train. The fact that it is left out of their mandate is a poor excuse for inaction, and the City of Ottawa can hold them to account by pushing for an independent investigation.

2. The TSB investigated the safety of double-decker buses after the 2013 crash. Their recommendations are in various stages of implementation. If they are brought in to investigate the 2019 crash, they will be sure to update their previous recommendations. It is crucial to know what steps were taken after the first investigation, and to learn from yet another mistake.

3. Investigations such as the 2013 or the 2019 crashes involve pursuing all factors that contributed to the crash. It is only through the methodical and unrestrained analysis of these factors that we can ensure they are all addressed satisfactorily.

4. We must also learn from leading countries, such as Sweden, which have succeeded in implementing safe systems that seek to prevent death and injury from happening in the first place. This means that Transport Canada must also start playing a critical role.

At present 95% of all transportation fatalities are on our roads, yet the TSB mandate is limited to marine, pipeline, rail and air safety, and Transport Canada puts only 3% of its safety program resources towards road safety. This utter abandonment of the safety of Canadians makes no sense.

The City of Ottawa is in no position to carry out an objective and thorough safety investigation, so it is time to invite the TSB to take the lead, and be granted authority to investigate all contributing factors without assignment of blame.

This is the tried and true way to ensure safety of road users, as we have seen in the outcomes of the 2013 crash investigation. It is the right thing to do, and it offers the best opportunity to learn from a complex failure, and to convey that knowledge to other cities and other transit authorities.

The City of Ottawa is a pioneer in bus rapid transit, and must also be the leader in restoring confidence in its infrastructure, transit fleet, and operations. Ottawa residents must be offered the highest possible level of protection from preventable injury and death, without delay.

Following two major disasters involving buses, we trust that you will have the leadership and courage to make this practical first step, for the safety of people in Ottawa and for people across Canada.

Now is the time to act.

Will you act?


Carol and Lyle Brons, in honour of Dayna Brons
Russell Herold, in honour of Adam Herold
Pattie Fair, in honour of Steve Babij who died following a collision on the Trans-Canada Highway near Revelstoke, B.C. in March 2017.
Lonnie, Pam and Morgan Gobeil (Morgan is a survivor of the Humboldt crash)
Rob, Joanne and Matthieu Gomercic
Marilyn Hay, in honour of Tyler Bieber
Lawrence, Ginny, Shaylyn and Shelby Hunter; and Kirk,
Sara and Katherine Miles, in honour of Logan Hunter
Graham Larkin, Executive Director of Vision Zero Canada
Celeste Leroy-Leicht and Kurt Leicht, in honour of Jacob Leicht
Roy and Laurel Patter (our son Derek Patter is a Humboldt survivor)
Bonnie and Kelly Schatz in honour of Logan Schatz
Ahmed Shalaby, Professor, University of Manitoba
Laurie and Scott Thomas, in honour of Evan Thomas
Rhonda and Ed Tobin in honour of Parker Tobin
Lorna Van Duyse
Tricia and Alan Wack, in honour of Stephen Wack


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