Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Day Eight: Class 2 Bus Driver Speaks, Testimony Ends and the Waiting Begins

Today was the last day of testimony at the Inquest. We thought it might end at 12 noon but as it turned out, the morning testimony of Mr. Bob Comeau. Mr. Comeau is a retired Class 2 (E and B Endorsement) Yellow School Bus Driver and former member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Both he and the second witness were on the stand for longer than expected, and for a good reason.

Mr. Bob Comeau, Retired Class 2 School Bus Driver

Both witnesses were excellent in terms of the information that they relayed to the Jury, the families, the courtoom and the media. Mr. Comeau was a well informed, likeable fellow who clearly explained in detail the daily routine of a Class 2 Yellow School Bus Driver. This was important to us because from the very beginning, we wanted to hear the testimony of a Class 2 Driver to show the extreme contrast in skills and training compared to the Class 4 Drivers which the Department of Education is relying upon to drive children to sporting events. We had already heard from three Class 4 Drivers and we knew that there was a serious problem with training and skills. They should not be driving children to off-site, extra-curricular activities.

Mr. Comeau brought with him his 1992 Drivers Training Manual. As it so happened, we were in possession of a more recent copy of the Manual and were able to submit it to the Jury as an exhibit. We also were able to submit a Class 2 Drivers Log book which showed the amount of effort that Class 2 Yellow School Bus Drivers have to go through every day before they even get on the bus. We were amazed by the amount of work that these drivers do to ensure the safety of their student passengers. It took Mr. Comeau nearly ten minutes to read the 75 point "Checklist" that each driver has to check off every day - a pre-inspection of their bus which misses nothing from one end to the other of these Yellow Buses. He told us how Bus Drivers could be audited at any time, their log books examined and if they did not do their jobs they could be reprimanded or dismissed.

Mr. Comeau said there was never a time when a bus driver wasn't available to drive a bus. This contradicts testimony from Principal Coleen Ramsay, Vice-Principal Don McKay and Superintendent John McLaughlin, who said, almost in unison, that
1) buses weren't always available
2) drivers weren't always available
3) it's too expensive

In contrast to Mr. Comeau, their responses to the question about using Class 2 Yellow School Bus Drivers was so similar, that you'd almost think they were coached.

Mr. Comeau was like Curt Bennet, the mechanic who did a complete mechanical inspection of the van after the collision. A profesional who knew what he was talking about, and who wasn't coached. It came from the heart.

Ron Arseneau, Coordinator, School Bus Driver Training, Department of Education

Next on the stand was Ron Arseneaul, Coordinator of Pupil Transportation. Mr. Arseneaul trains Yellow School Bus Drivers for the Department of Education and he was extremely knowledgeable about the Yellow School Bus Drivers Training Manual, which happens to be the same training manual we submitted to the Jury as an exhibit.

Like Mr. Comeau, he was a real professional who knew what he was doing. He was easy to understand and stood up in front of the Jury to show them the details of the manual and the kind of pre-trip inspections that Yellow School Bus Drivers must do before they leave on a trip. In combination with Mr. Comeau, he proved to the Jury that Yellow School Bus Drivers are superior in terms of their skills, training, and professionalism.

One of the questions we had always wanted answered by anyone, the Principal, the Vice Principal, the Superintendent, the Assistant Deputy Minister was: What kind of contract did Bathurst Van Inc. have with the Department of Education?

Finally the question was asked of Mr. Arseneau and we found out that in fact, there was no conveyance contract or contract of any kind at all between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Education because the Department of Education doesn't own the new Multi Function Activity Vehicles (MFAVs), doesn't pay for their purchase or their maintenance (the BHS Student Representative Council does) and therefore, the Department of Education is not responsible for them under the Pupil Transportation Regulations Act - JUST LIKE IT WAS FOR BATHURST VAN INC. AND THE VAN IN WHICH OUR SONS WERE KILLED.


This loophole allowed the Department of Education to wash its hands of responsibility for students under the Pupil Transportations Regulations Act. This information from the second last witness was confirmation of everything we knew to be true. The Department of Education did not want to be responsible for the transportation of students to off-site, extra-curricular activities.

Mr. Arseneau also confirmed that they intended to use Class 4 Drivers to drive the new MFAVs and that they were piloting a Class 4 Drivers Training Program in June.

Because Mr. Arseneau went over his time the Coroner asked for an adjournment until 1:30 at which time the final witness, Const. Yves Allain, the RCMP Lead Investigator, would give testimony.

Our Recommendations

At this point, the Coroner asked the parents to gather and go over the recommendations which he told us had to be submitted to Const. Allain before he went on the stand at 1:30 pm.

Ana and I had already submitted our 20 recommendations the night before and posted them on our website at about 11:30 pm. We had spoken to Marcella Kelly, mother of Nick Kelly, who gave us a recommendation for blankets and pillows at the destination school. Alan Cormier, father of Justin Cormier, wanted to see a recommendation about the widening of the road, so we included that too.

As we stood there Mr. Chiasson asked: "Does everybody agree with these recommendations?" and the families said "Yes". We made some minor changes after lunch and added three more points, including the one about employees of the Department of Education being reprimanded for failing to fulfill their duties. When we came back, we passed the final version around to all the parents and they all agreed. Then we had to give the final list of our recommendations to Const. Yves Allain before he gave his witness testimony at 1:30. As the Lead Investigator, he had to hand our recommendations over to the Crown Prosecutor who, in turn, gave it as an exhibit to the Coroner, Greg Forestell.

Const. Yves Allain, the RCMP Lead Investigator

Const. Allain was the Lead Investigator for the RCMP. He recounted the night of January 12 and it was difficult for us to hear that again, as we thought we wouldn't have to revisit that terrible night.

Const. Allain handed over our recommendations to the Crown Prosecutor, who gave our recommendations to the Coroner as an Exhibit.

At 2:00 pm it was over.

One Hour's Notice

Greg Forestell addressed the Jury, instructed them in their responsibilities and by 2:30 the public portion of the Inquest was complete. Now we had to wait for the Jury to come up with their recommendations. We were told to be available at one hour's notice.