Wednesday, July 3, 2024

New Brunswick Auditor General's 2024 Annual Report Gives Dept. of Education A Failing Grade in Pupil Transportation

NB Auditor General Report 2024
Our Van Angels group has spent the last 16 years advocating for the best and safest available student transportation here in Canada. 

We now find ourselves shocked to read the N.B. Auditor General, Paul Martin's scathing report on the current status of student transportation in that province

It is particularly concerning that his stats show serious non-compliance in maintenance and inspection of school buses, plus inadequate strategies in place to endure sufficient staffing and qualification levels of all school bus drivers. 

Overall, the report revealed a serious lack of oversight mechanism in the Department of Education

It seems the N.B. Dept. of Education has already forgotten the horrific crash of January 12, 2008 involving the Bathurst High School boys' basketball team: The Boys In Red. 

One of the main contributing factors in this terrible tragedy was an ill-maintained and aging school- owned 1997 Ford E350 15-passenger van. Seven young teens and the coach's wife died that dark, icy and stormy night. Both the investigation by Transport Canada and the RCMP accident reconstruction and post-collision inspection concluded that the poor mechanical and physical condition of the Ford van would not have passed a pre-collision inspection due to brake issues, misaligned worn all-season tires and a rusted body.  Also, cited in the investigations were, driver error and fatigue as well as violations of hours of driving in a commercial vehicle and up-to-date trip long entries.

So, once again our precious children are being put at risk for no other reason than N.B. Dept. of Education 's entire chain of command does not have "effective systems or processes to monitor and ensure compliance with legislation and departmental policies relating to  pupil transportation",   which highlight school bus maintenance, inspections and sufficient recruitment of qualified school bus drivers as per the Auditor Generals Audit.

Currently, under the Department of Education legislative and departmental policies related to student transportation are already in place as listed.

The Department
- establish policies and guidelines
- assist in interpretation of acts, regulation and policy
- provide support and expertise to districts - implement safe and efficient pupil transportation

District Education Councils
- develop district policies that are consistent with provincial policies
- ensure provincial policies are followed at the district
- ensure pupil transportation is managed according to the needs of the pupils and the resources of the school district

- ensure that provincial policies are followed in schools
- ensure that transportation of pupils to and from school is done safely

We are concerned by the weak and vague responses by the Department of Education on the twelve recommendations made by the Auditor General. The report includes such words as explore, review, and discuss, terms which carry no weight as far as we are concerned. 

Our Van Angels group seriously questions why they do not enforce the policies and regulations that are already in place and be accountable for their responsibilities. The safety of our children should and must be a priority.

2024 New Brunswick Auditor General annual report on Student Transportation

June 13, 2024 CUPE School Bus drivers respond to the Auditor General's report

Bathurst High School Tragedy by Richard Foot 2016;article/bathurst-high-tragedy

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Van Angels: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Multifunction School Activity Buses (MFSABs) in Canada

Multi Function School Activity Bus and MFSA Certificaton Label

This post previously appeared on the website. We are reposting it today, January 11, 2024, on the eve of the 16th anniversary of the collision that took the lives of 8 people including 7 Bathurst High School Phantoms Basketball players and the coaches wife. We hope to educate the public about the critical importance of using Multi-Function School Activity Buses (MFSABs) to guarantee SAFE, STUDENT, SCHOOL EXTRA-CURRICULAR TRANSPORTATION.


1.  What is the background history of the MFSAB definition in Canada?

On February 11, 2015, here in Canada, the MULTIFUNCTION SCHOOL ACTIVITY BUS (MFSAB) became a new definition under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act regulations in order to address the needs of school boards, organizations and bus service operators for an alternative vehicle to a 15-passenger van that would provide the same level of crash safety as a school bus. In 2003, the US, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) had already adopted the new definition of a MFSAB, as a sub-category of a school bus.

In 2006, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) submitted a proposal to Transport Canada for a new standard called a multifunction activity bus (MFAB) CSA D-270. The standard was developed to create a type of multi-passenger vehicle (11 or more) that could be classified under a school bus category but did not require traffic control devices (flashing lights and side signal stop arm), as it was not intended to be used for the transport of students to and from school. The CSA saw the need for a safe mode of transport for extra-curricular school activities, as well as, a safer vehicle to accommodate community organizations and bus service operators. In 2008, without managing to get the new standard adopted, the CSA published their own voluntary standard which Canadian manufacturers could use as this standard met and surpassed minimum Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) because it was built to the higher school bus requirements.

The Van Angels transportation safety advocacy group fully supported the CSA and the CSA D-270 standard as it would bring a safer alternative vehicle into the Canadian public's choice of transport for student and non- school groups use. It could carry more than 10 passengers, was built to yellow school bus standards and was not a 15-passenger van.  In September 2010, the Van Angels group spearheaded a committee that requested the Minister of Transport and his provincial/territorial counterparts to take the necessary steps to work with the CSA to recognize the MULTIFUNCTION ACTIVITY BUS (MFAB) CSA D-270 as a sub-category of a school bus.

On February 11, 2015, after four and a half years in the regulatory process, a new definition called the MULTIFUNCTION SCHOOL ACTIVITY BUS (MFSAB) emerged and became a part of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. It now harmonizes with the US definition. The CSA intends to withdraw their 2008 publication of the CSA D-270 standard and instead incorporate the MFSAB requirements as an optional mode in their next revision of their school bus safety standard.

2.What is Transport Canada's role in motor vehicle safety compliance?

Under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, Transport Canada proposes, establishes, regulates and enforces national motor vehicle safety standards for the safety performance requirements of all new and imported motor vehicles. The regulations set the minimum Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) required by law to be met by auto manufacturers. They do not address licensing or the use of after market modifications. Transport Canada does not have the mandate to ban a vehicle if it meets all the minimum required safety standards but can initiate investigations if motor vehicles are suspected to be defective.

3.What is the role of the Provinces/Territories in motor vehicle safety compliance?

The Provinces and Territories are responsible for the regulation and enforcement of the licensing, operation, modification and maintenance of all vehicles on public roads in their jurisdictions. They do have the regulatory power to ban a vehicle. For example, after several fatal accidents, including the very high profile Bathurst Tragedy in 2008, 15-passenger vans are now prohibited for student transportation in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Labrador and Newfoundland, Quebec and many individual school districts across Canada.

4.What is the definition of a "bus" in Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Act?

Under the regulations of the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Act, a "bus" is loosely defined as a class of motor vehicles that have the seating capacity of 10 or more occupants. It covers a broad range of vehicles, including 15-passenger vans, shuttle/activity buses, school buses, multifunction school activity buses and coach-style buses. 

5.What is the definition of a "school bus" in Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Act?

A "school bus" is further defined as a bus that is designed or equipped to carry students to and from school and/or to and from school related events/activities. A school bus is required to meet its own set of safety standards that are over and above the minimum safety standards for buses in general. It includes a reinforced steel rollover cage (CMVSS #220) , strong body joint strength (CMVSS #221) and emergency exits (CMVSS #217) plus several other features specific to a school bus body build.

6.What is the definition of a "MULTIFUNCTION SCHOOL ACTIVITY BUS" (MFSAB) in the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Act?

The "multifunction school activity bus' (MFSAB) is in the same structural category as a school bus but is designed to pick up and drop off students under circumstances that do not require the need to control traffic. They are meant to commute passengers from point to point, rather than the designated frequent and repeated road-side pick-up and drop off necessary to transport students to and from school. These vehicles do not require the flashing signal lights (CMVSS # 108) or the side signal stop arm (CMVSS # 131) but otherwise conform to the same high safety standards as the familiar yellow school bus. They are not built exclusively for student transportation and can be used by any group or organization looking for a high standard of transport.


In Canada, motor vehicles must meet all applicable minimum Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) to be allowed on our roads. (CMVSS harmonize with most of the US Federal Motor Vehicle Standards/ FMVSS.) Auto manufacturers are required by law to comply with all applicable CMVSS's in the production of new vehicles and it is their responsibility to affix a compliance label. This is called the VEHICLE CERTIFICATION LABEL and should not be confused with the vehicle identification number (VIN). The Vehicle Certification Label is usually located either to the hinge pillar, door latch-post or the door edge that meets the door-latch post, next to the driver's seat. It can also be found on the inward facing surface of the door next to the driver's seat or even to the left of the instrument panel. The label will include the identity of the manufacturer, the date of manufacture, the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) of each axle, the TYPE of vehicle and other pertinent information. Whether a vehicle is a "bus", "school bus" or "MFSAB", it will be clearly identified under the Type of vehicle heading. If a vehicle is built in more than one stage, (like a bus and MFSAB) then more than one vehicle certification label will be affixed to confirm that each stage manufacturer has complied with the applicable safety standards and the final stage label will indicate the completed vehicle type. Canadian manufactured vehicles also require a national mark which shows a number specifically assigned to the manufacturer.

8.What do the abbreviations mean under TYPE of VEHICLE on the Vehicle Compliance Label?

B/A - to refer to a bus/autobus
SB/AS - to refer to a school bus/autobus scolaire
MFSAB/AMAS - to refer to a multifunction school activity bus/autobus multifonction pour les activities scolaire


Canadians have the right to demand the safest mode of transport for students and other non-school group organizations.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

15 Anniversary of Boys in Red a Sombre Event: A reminder of the danger of 15 passenger vans

Memorial for Boys in Red 2023
15 years after the fatal 15-passenger van collision that took the lives of 7 young Bathurst High School basketball players, a memorial was held at the site of the collision to remember the lives lost and the changes that occurred in the wake of their deaths.

Isabelle Hains' son Daniel was just 17 years-old when he was killed along with his 6 teammates and the coach's wife at 12:08 am on January 12, 2008. The BHS Phantoms basketball team were returning to Bathurst after playing a game in Moncton, New Brunswick. 

It was late in the night, in a blinding snowstorm on icy roads with freezing rain and ice pellets when the driver lost control and slammed into a semi-tractor trailer just minutes outside of Bathurst at the junction of Highway 8 and 11.

In the wake of the senseless tragedy, a Coroners Inquest in May 2009 found that the van was unfit for travel and not properly maintained. Most importantly, the jury found that the New Brunswick Department of Education guidelines and regulations governing the use of  15 passenger vans for transporting students to extra-curricular activities were not followed. 

Recommendations from the Coroner's Jury led to changes in legislation which permanently banned the use of 15 passenger for student transportation in New Brunswick. Several provinces also enacted similar legislation. The mother's advocacy at the federal level also led to significant changes in student transportation, which resulted in the preferred use of Multi Function School Activity Buses (MFSAB) for schools.

The long story of the Boys in Red and the many challenges faced by the mothers seeking justice for their  children was detailed in the book "Driven" by Richard Foot.

Despite some positives changes in provincial and federal legislation, 15 passenger vans are still in wide use across Canada and the United States, especially by non-profit organizations, church groups and migrant workers. As recently as September 2022, 5 passengers were killed and 5 seriously injured in a horrific crash in Arkansas. See link

"A van servicing a school for disabled adults collided with a large truck in southeast Arkansas, killing five and injuring five, according to authorities. Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police, said that the 15-passenger van belonged to C.B. King Memorial School, a nonprofit organization serving people with developmental delays or disabilities in a number of southeast Arkansas counties, as per its website. Police said that the victims fall between the ages of 19 and 73, and that both drivers are among the injured. It currently seems that the van’s driver “did not see the oncoming traffic” and failed to yield when crossing U.S. Highway 65, according to Sadler."

In November, 2022, 8 migrant workers were injured and the driver of the truck they collided with was killed in London, Ontario. See link

"The circumstances of Sunday morning’s crash seem eerily similar to the deadly collision that happened Feb. 6, 2012, in Hampstead, a rural area near Stratford.

A trucker headed home to London to celebrate his anniversary, and a 15-passenger van driven by a migrant worker, collided, killing the trucker and 10 migrant workers from South America. The van driver had failed to stop at a stop sign."

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Highway 8 Memorial is a Sacred Place

High school friends of Boys in Red
at highway memorial on January 12, 2008.
(Note: This article was reprinted from January 12, 2010. On Friday night, January 11, 2019, we will be at the memorial site on Highway 8 from 9 pm until after 12 a.m. to honour the Boys in Red who died 11 years ago a few minutes after midnight.)

We hear that the Mayor of Bathurst, Stephen Brunet, wants people to stop going to the crash site on Highway 8 near Bathurst where a spontaneous memorial was erected by friends and family of the Boys in Red who were killed two years ago today on January 12, 2008.

He says the area is dangerous and he wants people to concentrate their efforts on building a memorial in downtown Bathurst with the funds that were raised from public donations in the aftermath of ours sons deaths.

While we agree that we need to complete the planned memorial in downtown Bathurst, and that Highway 8 is not the safest place, as evidenced by the death of our children there, we believe it would be pointless to try to stop people from visiting the memorial that has existed along Highway 8 for two years today.

Instead, why not make the memorial on Highway 8 a safer place for the people who will keep going there - no matter what anyone says - because it has become a "sacred site".

Since the day our sons were killed people have been stopping along Highway 8 at the very spot where the tragic collision took place. It is a remote place, surrounded by woods on both sides for miles, a broad swath of snow in the winter separates the two lanes from the forest and in the summer scruffy weeds and grass grow there.

To someone who doesn't know the significance of the place it looks like any other stretch of rural highway. But once they see that basketball net along the side of the road, the place takes on a completely different meaning.

It has, for all intents and purposes, become a "sacred site", no less than a cemetery or a cenotaph. It is the place where the tragedy that took our sons' lives happened. It cannot be erased from memory. It is what it is.

It is a memorial.

Until last summer, there were two basketball nets facing each other about fifty feet apart and strewn along the ground between the nets were dozens of basketballs, rugby balls, teddy bears, sport shirts, baseball caps, sports medals, hand written notes and photos of the boys. Those two nets stood there, like a sentinel along the side of the road for more than a year. Then last summer, the old nets came down, the area was cleared and the old memorial was replaced with another beautiful basketball memorial that was made by one of the fathers and his friends in honour of his son and the other Boys in Red.

Meantime, more and more people continue to stop at the site because it has become a "sacred place". We believe that even if the new memorial was removed, it will be impossible to stop friends and family from going there again and creating another one in memory of their sons.

So although the Mayor may be well-intentioned, fearing that an accident may occur, we want to say as the parents of the boys who were killed on January 12, 2008 that it will be impossible to stop people, including us, from going to the memorial to the Boys in Red on Highway 8 because it is a "sacred site", no less than the proposed memorial to the Boys in Red that is planned for downtown Bathurst.

There are hundreds and thousands of similar "sacred sites" scattered along roads and highways across Canada and the United States, where relatives and friends go to remember their loved ones who never made it home. You see them in every community, crosses with fresh and sometimes wilted bouqets of flowers, others with photographs of the man, woman or child who was killed, a teddy bear, a favourite object, a tender photo are there to remind the living that the person who died at that very spot was loved and is remembered forever.

So to the mayor we say: nobody can stop the survivors, family and friends from going to these places along the side of the road because they are sacred to them. A spiritual connection has been made and no Department of Transportation or City Council can make them stop. To try would be folly.

We believe the memorial on Highway 8 and the planned memorial in downtown Bathurst can co-exist. We suggest that the City of Bathurst and the Department of Transportaton work with the victims' families to build a second permanent memorial to the Boys in Red on Highway 8 in the form of a rest area where travellers can safely park their cars and pause for a moment to reflect on the significance of site. It would be a peaceful place, a place where passersby can stop safely to remember the lives of the children who lost theirs so tragically on January 12, 2008.

(Note: This article was reprinted from January 8, 2010.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

VAN ANGELS remind Canadians of the important "Safety Guidelines For The Use of 15-Passenger Vans" after recent van crash in Fields, BC

The crash of 2006 Ford E350 15 passenger van in Fields, BC in November 2018 has put the spotlight on these type of vehicles. In this image from the owners' Instagram account, you can see the van was towing a heavy trailer:
"...for bands that tour Canada in the winter, an accident like this is a nightmare constantly in the back of our minds."
A recent roll over in Fields, BC involving a 2006 Ford E350 15 passenger van has once again put a spot light on these types of vehicles. On November 9, 2018 this incident involving a Calgary band is a stark reminder that it is extremely important (life and death scenario) to recognize and understand that these type of vans handle differently than other passenger vehicles, especially when fully loaded with people and luggage / equipment / gear. 

Click here to read article on CBC about 15 passenger van crash in Fields, British Columbia, Canada.

Our VAN ANGELS transportation safety advocacy group was established after the loss of our sons in two separate 15 passenger van incidents in 2008. On January 12, 2008, 7 players from the Bathurst  High School boys' basketball team and the coach's wife died in a  1997 Ford E350 15-passenger van collision with a semi-tractor trailer (now forever remembered as the 'Boys' in Red')​. Again in 2008, on September 25, a 26 year old drummer with the Vancouver indie rock group, the Hotel Lobbyists, died in a 1994 Ford E350 15-passenger van rollover outside Brandon, Manitoba.

These two tragic and deadly events led our VAN ANGELS group to lobby for the banning of 15-passenger vans in Canada, to request a safety review of these vans, and to push for a nation-wide informational format to educate the public to specific safety issues associated with these particular vehicles. We were able to accomplish two of these goals.  Transport Canada did conduct a 2 year safety review of the vans (2010-2012) and then tasked the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) to develop a national approach to delivering the safety message to the public. In 2013, each province and territory sent out SAFETY GUIDELINES FOR THE USE OF 15-PASSENGER VANS, to every registered 15-passenger van owner in Canada.

Although 10 years have passed since the deaths of our sons in 2008,  many new Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards CMVSS) have  become mandatory features such as ESC and side air bags. The design of   the 15-passenger van's  with its high centre of gravity / top heavinest still makes abrupt or sudden steering manoeuvres a dangerous challenge. Even today, the mandatory roof crush standards for regular passenger cars is still higher than the minimum safety standards for a  15-passenger van and consequently rollovers can severely compromise the passenger compartment. Nothing has changed as far as the loading of passengers and cargo:  the way the van is loaded and the distrbution of the weight can change how it handles.  It is important to know that roof racks, rear cargo boxes and tow trailers should be avoided as they will negatively affect the handling and control of this type of vehicle. Proper tires and tire pressure is another important factor that needs to be maintained and inspected regularly. For some vehicles, the required tire pressure can be different for the front and rear tires.

We strongly urge Canadians to review these SAFETY GUIDELINES FOR THE USE OF 15-PASSENGER VANS:​​

Our Van Angels group is still adamant that 15 passenger vans are 'death traps'. They were originally designed to carry cargo and they were never redesigned to transport human beings. It has been 5 years since the safety guidelines been issued by the ccmta and it is evident that public awareness is still lacking. The vans were never banned nation wide, although many provinces did banned them for school use. The fact remains these vans on our highways are dangerous. 

From the band's Instagram account "The van and trailer rolled on the way from Vancouver to Toronto. Everyone is ok, we feel very lucky. I can’t say how grateful I am that everyone is alive... for bands that tour Canada in the winter, an accident like this is a nightmare constantly in the back of our minds. "

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Statement on Humboldt Bronco Hockey Team Tragedy

Our Van Angels group is truly heartbroken by the terrible news of the bus crash involving the Humboldt Bronco hockey team, on Friday April 6, 2018.

We know from our own personal experience that there are no words to adequately describe the emotional devastation of such a sudden and tragic loss on the lives of the families, friends and the community.

“The Humboldt Bronco hockey team bus tragedy has brought back an overwhelming flood of painful memories for me,” said Isabelle Hains, whose 17 year old son, Daniel, was killed along with six  members of the Bathurst High School Phantoms basketball team and the coach's wife on January 12, 2008.

“I know how you are feeling and you are not alone. There are people who love and care for you and want to help. Gather them around you for support.”

Our group sends our heartfelt sympathies and you are all in our thoughts.