Monday, May 11, 2009

Day Six: Shame, Shame, Shame. They Didn’t Do What Had to Be Done

Today was a very important day at the Inquest because we finally got to see the people who played such a critical role in the decision making process the day our sons were killed…. Or should we say, they “didn’t” play a critical role because they didn’t do their jobs. Shame on them.

The first two rows and part of the third were filled up with parents and relatives. Everyone listened intently to witness testimony. It’s tiring and difficult to hear the testimony which doesn’t help matters. You have to lean forward to hear the witnesses speaking.

Bathurst High School Principal, Coleen Ramsay

First on the witness stand this morning was Principal Coleen Ramsay, who started off her testimony by telling the Crown Prosecutor that she “thinks” the van was “six years old.” That the Principal of the High School can say 16 months after the tragedy that the van was six years old is unbelievable.

It makes you wonder why she would say that? Is it to plant the seed of doubt in our minds that she really doesn’t remember? Has she been coached by a team of lawyers and public relations experts at the Department of Education who told her and others what to say so that it has the least negative impact? You can’t believe anything else she says after that because everyone in the city, the province and the country knows the van was 11 years old because it’s been plastered all over the news.

She said she didn’t know the weather was going to be bad that day.

She said that usually she would be asked her opinion on school travel and she would advise a coach “to err on the side of caution.” She said the driver did not ask her opinion that day.

She said she never read the guidelines and she didn’t know that the van was supposed to be inspected every six months. She never looked at the maintenance records. She never asked for a school bus driver to drive kids to sporting events. She had nothing to do with canceling school, or canceling a game because ultimately it’s the coaches decision. She also said that when it comes to the vans and maintenance, “Our philosophy is we do what has to be done.”

Pass The Buck

Well, Miss Ramsay, you didn’t do what had to be done that day and neither did anyone else. Instead of taking responsibility for the safety of children, you and everyone else passed the buck on to the coach who already had enough on his hands, teaching and coaching.

President of Bathurst Van Inc.

She spoke about her role in Bathurst Van Inc. She said she was the President of the company because “it’s a role you take on when you become principal of the school” and “nobody else wants it.”

Vice-Principal Don McKay and Vice-Principal George Willet, as well as Norman Conde, another teacher, filled out the rest of the Board, McKay taking on the role of Vice-President.

Ramsay said that in 2001, she thought she should find out what she was president of so she wrote to Harry Williamson and he sent her a package which contained some documents including the Letters Patent. This was submitted as Exhibit 46.

The business is described in the return for 2004 “to assist Bathurst High School with transportation”. Yet, incredibly, Bathurst Van Inc.did not have a bank account and, as she explained to an incredulous courtroom, its reason for existence was because it was the only way BHS could operate a Student Activity Vehicle.

Ramsay confirmed that the Student Representative Council (SRC) paid for everything associated with the van from its fundraising activities which included the following:

A student fee
Magazine gift wrap novelty fundraiser
Rebates from cafeteria
Bay Breakfast
Student Activity Fees

The money from these fundraisers went to pay for the purchase of vehicles, their upkeep and maintenance. To think that our sons, and we too, actually sold cards, wrapping paper, chocolate, and that our boys sold Kinsmen Bingo Cards to help pay for these vehicles makes us sick.

They couldn’t even put winter tires on the vans with the money that these innocent children were more or less pressured into raising. If you didn’t sell at least $100 in those fundraisers, you could not participate.

On top of that, we had to pay $200 student registration fee for our sons to actually play basketball. Ramsay said there is no guarantee that the money which may be targeted for basketball actually goes to basketball.

Grade 11 Kids Sign Cheques

We found out later that the treasurer of the Student Council is a Grade 11 student. What’s the chance they are going to argue over a cheque with the Principal or Vice-Principal? What kind of power relationship is that? You can just see it: these kids had no control whatsoever over the money that they were raising for Bathurst Van Inc.. Just sign the cheques and hand it over. Thank you very much kiddo!

We couldn’t believe that there was no contract between the school and Bathurst Van Inc. What kind of a set up is that? It’s shocking. Here are the Principal and Vice-Principals who taught our children every day and that they would endanger our childrens’ lives in a van that was poorly maintained; had worn and scalloped tires; front end out of alignment; a broken self adjuster cable; left brake adjustment not working and out of adjustment; low tire pressure and rust holes. It is beyond comprehension.

How are bills paid? Apparently, Hatheway Ford submits an invoice to the person in charge of the finances for the SRC (not a student, mind you, we can’t have them handling the funds, after all, they’re only in Grade 11). That person is Nancy Hodnett, a nice enough seeming women who like a lot of people connected to this case, seems to have been completely left out of the loop. A relative newcomer to Bathurst High School, she volunteered to help with the finances of the Student Council in 2006 after Norman Conde, another member of Bathurst Van Inc., moved on to something else. Nancy described how she found herself receiving invoices for the maintenance of vans owned by Bathurst Van Inc. She remarked that she was “astonished” by the amount of money that was going to Hatheway Ford for maintenance. If she was astonished, imagine how we felt when we found out that she had never heard of Bathurst Van Inc. until after the crash that killed our boys.

Who was the activity organizer? According to Ramsay, it was the “person who takes the team away and they would have to report to Don McKay.” Don McKay’s name came up a lot today, as it has in almost every other day’s testimony. He spoke after Ramsay, coming up on the stand at 11:20 am.

Vice-Principal Don McKay also Vice-President of Bathurst Van Inc.

Mr. McKay is the former vice-principal of Bathurst High School and he was the Vice-President of Bathurst Van Inc. for many years. His name appears on every maintenance record associated with the white van, and nearly every witness has mentioned him as being the point man for Bathurst Van Inc.

He admitted the Industrial Department at the High School did work on the van, albeit minor, it was still illegal. Only a qualified, certified commercial vehicle mechanic should have been allowed to touch that van.

He admitted that he did not know the van was to be inspected every six months.

He said he didn’t know the difference between all season tires and winter tires.

When asked why he didn’t put on winter tires, he said “Price was an issue on all vans, whether it was the price of the vans or tires.”

McKay said there was no grumbling about the cost of maintenance on the white van, despite the fact that the Student Council, through Bathurst Van Inc., had spent nearly $4000.00 in less than one year on repairs.

“Work was done, bills were paid” said McKay.

Yet, they couldn’t seem to get the money together to buy winter tires for the white van while the new red van had brand new winter tires. Why? As far as we're concerned it's because the white van was on its way out and was going to be replaced, so why bother investing any more money in that old piece of junk.

McKay said that they usually replace the tires every two years, but we know for a fact that the tires were not replaced every two years because they were down to bald status, which is 3/32 (4mm) which is one step above rejection. We know that these tires had been on the white van for 52 months (that’s 4 years and 4 months) and they had nearly 116,000 kms on them but their warranty expired at 100,000.

Prove Us Wrong and We'll Print a Retraction

We challenge you Mr. McKay to show us the proof that we are wrong and we will gladly retract this statement because we sincerely hope this is not true.

McKay explained how drivers got permission to use the van. He said that there was no special training and he personally never took a defensive driving course. He “got his license and that was it.”

He knew next to nothing about the rules and regulations governing transportation of children: when asked if he was aware that the white van was described as a “bus” in the Regulations 512 and 513, he said he always thought it was a passenger van and besides, he thought the guidelines were just recommendations. McKay didn’t even use the official log book, preferring the one that he made up himself.

Besides, he said that they only used the log book for out of province travel and that there was no log book for in province travel, which of course, was another violation of the Guidelines and Policies. Rather, McKay said he created a “Trip Authorization and Vehicle Record” which he said was made for Dan MacDonald, another teacher who was involved in van usage, to give out to drivers when they need vans.

To clarify, Mr. Lord already testified that Mr. MacDonald did not give him anything but the keys to the van when he left for Moncton that day.

Coaches / Drivers Had to Ask for Guidelines 512 and 513 - If They Knew About Them In the First Place

McKay explained that the information in Guidelines 512 and 513 would not necessarily have been discussed with drivers (no surprise to us). He said they met with coaches at the beginning of the season but they did not discuss these guidelines. If they had, this all would have been prevented and our children would still be alive.

He said that they’d tell drivers the things they needed to know, for example, Policy 701 which he described as being more for how to conduct his “own behaviour”, when actually, Policy 701 is about the responsibility teachers have towards children:

Policy 701 section 1.0
“ensure that adults in the public education system understand the magnitude of the responsibility conferred upon them when parents and communities entrust their children to the public education system;”

Other areas he would discuss with drivers is schedules, any information from the NB Interscholastic Association, procedures for getting keys, credit cards and the van.

When asked if teachers would be given copies of the Guidelines, he said yes, “if they wanted them.”

Truth is, however, that the Guidelines and Policies were not were given out. How can someone ask for something that they don’t even know about?

Paul Robichaud, Jaw Dropping Testimony

Paul Robichaud, a young teacher who volunteered as a coach with the girl’s basketball team was a perfect example of how that played itself out in real life. Mr. Robichaud also testified today. He described his coaching experience with the girls team and how he was completely unaware of any Guidelines or Policies regarding transportation of students.

He seemed sincere, but it was frightening to know that this young man was put in such a position by his senior administrators who knew better.

What was even more chilling was his description of how he got his Class 4 license. More than one jaw dropped in the room when he revealed that he had never driven the 15 passenger van before - but he got his license in about an hour after writing a test and going for a spin around town with the driver examiner. (He also had to get a physical exam, but there was no driver training whatsoever). After the crash, he took a defensive drivers’ course.

Lame Excuses

Meantime, McKay gave the lamest excuses we have ever heard as to why the van was only inspected once a year. “It was difficult to make arrangements,” and “We had been doing it the same way for so many years,” and besides it was only “a guideline.”

If our children had given that excuse for not doing their homework or for being late for class they would have been severely disciplined, but there’s no after-school detention for Mr. McKay or anybody else. They didn’t do their homework.

He said “we knew” on January 11, of the possibility of bad weather. “I spoke to Wayne and he indicated he had spoken to Moncton” and he said he’d “drive slow” if he had to. Besides, McKay said, there was no protocol in place for him to contact the driver in Moncton and tell him to stay there because the weather had turned bad in Bathurst. “It never crossed my mind.” Anyways “The coach decides.”

Mr. McKay said a lot today. We could go on and on about all the things he and so many others were supposed to do but did not. Had one of them stopped for a minute and asked the important questions about the way our children were being transported, if they had read the Guidelines and Policies and Laws that were supposed to uphold, then our children would be alive today. But not a single one of them did.

Shame On Them

All we can say about Mr. McKay, the Principal Coleen Ramsay, the coaches and drivers and still unidentified “activity organizer” is that they betrayed our children and took our sons away from us. Shame on them all.

Tomorrow's Testimony

Once again, we have no idea who will testify tomorrow but we think it's going to include the Superintendent of District 15, an expert on tires and a Class 2 Bus Driver.