Documents released today under the Right To Information Act show the New Brunswick Departments of Education and Transportation were scrambling to defend their position after three Bathurst mothers, who lost their sons in a horrific collision two years ago, challenged the safety of mixed tires on 21 passenger MFAVs.
The documents were made public today by Isabelle Hains, Ana Acevedo and Marcella Kelly in the lead up to groundbreaking scientific tests of winter tires slated for Wednesday, February 24, in the United States. ( The documents are available in PDF or jpg format at the following URLS:
One 35 page document in PDF format
http://www.vanangels.ca/documents/right-to-information.pdf [15 mbs]
35 seperate PDFS in Zip format
35 separate .jpgs in Zip format
On the Van Angels website at http://blog.vanangels.ca/2010/02/right-to-information-request.html ).
Province More Interested in Image than Children's Safety
Isabelle Hains at a Press Conference in Fredericton, NB, December 11, 2008.
Isabelle Hains, who lost her 17 year old son Daniel in the Bathurst tragedy, says the mothers arranged for the tire tests in early December because they felt they had no choice when the province showed no interest in testing the tires on 21 passenger MFAVs.
"It became clear that the province of New Brunswick was more interested in defending its engineering consultant and its image than in the safety of school age children in New Brunswick and across North America who are being transported to extra-curricular activities in vehicles with untested tires," says Hains.
Province Spends More Time Meeting and Planning Evasions
John Mahler is a veteran automotive journalist and tire expert who writes for the Toronto Star's Wheels.ca. He says the tests will be conducted for free by Continental Tires, one of the world's largest tire manufacturers, at its state of the art testing facility in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
"This will be the first scientific testing of tires on these type of vehicles that has ever been conducted," said Mahler, who also plans to be in Michigan along with a representative of Transport Canada and the Rubber Association of Canada.
"By stonewalling for the status quo of untested tires, New Brunswick lost an opportunity to raise the gold standard for tires on these type of vehicles across North America." said Mahler. "All we want is to know what kind of tires are best so that children can travel safe."
Mahler says he was saddened by the tone of the correspondence and the fact that the mothers had to make a request under New Brunswick's Right to Information Act.
"It reveals how little concern the New Brunswick government has for real world testing and how much of their time is spent meeting and planning evasions."
Mothers Will Attend Michigan Testing
Hains, Acevedo and Kelly will also be present in Michigan for the testing next Wednesday and they say that preliminary results should be available the same day.
"We will accept the test results, even if it shows that mixed tires are safest on these vehicles," says Marcella Kelly, who lost her son Nikki in the 2008 crash. "But what we can't accept is the status quo. After everything that happened to our children, we can't believe that the provincial government continues to use these vehicles knowing the liability and safety issues raised by Transport Canada."
Marcella Kelly, stands in front of a memorial quilt commemorating the Boys in Red at the one year anniversary of the tragedy, Holy Family Church, Bathurst, NB, January 12, 2009.
Kelly says the province has known since October about the safety issues raised by the use of mixed tires. She says the Minister of Education, Roland Hache even promised the mothers he would follow Transport Canada's lead on this issue but instead, "he immediately started backpedalling and went into defensive mode, doing everything to protect the province's engineering consultant, David Hoar, who disagreed with Transport Canada."
Final Straw Was In December
Kelly says the final straw was in December, when the mothers approached the Departments of Education and Transportation for the loan of a 21 passenger MFAV from the provincial fleet of more than 20 vehicles.
At the time, they were told by Valerie Kilfoil, Director of Communications for the Department of Education, that they had to wait until January, because there was a "process" to go through.
NB Mininster of Education, Roland Hache and his Director of Communications, Valerie Kilfoil. Source: Telegraph Journal.
"We will submit it through the request process like we would any other request," Kilfoil said to the media.
The mothers were willing to wait, but in year-end interviews with the Canadian Press and the Moncton Times Transcript, Kilfoil accused the mothers of dumping the request in the the Department's "lap at the last minute". Kilfoil said the mothers made the Department of Education look like the "bad guys" and suggested they rent their own vehicle rather than waiting for one from the province.
Kilfoil also diminished the concerns of more than a dozen experts with whom the mothers had consulted, including Transport Canada, comparing them to "buddy from the tire store."
This is what Kilfoil said :
"...while many drivers know the benefits of having four winter tires over two, the [provincial] government decided it was best to consult with experts in the tire industry. You can’t talk to buddy at the tire store...” she said."
A Slap in the Face
"It was a slap in the face," says Ana Acevedo, whose son Javier's 19th birthday would have been on the same day that the article appeared in the newspaper.
Ana Acevedo at a Press Conference in Fredericton, NB, December 11, 2008.
"All we have ever wanted since the day our sons were killed was to ensure the safety of children but the provincial government is more concerned about looking good than dealing with the issue."
The correspondence between Transport Canada and the Departments of Education and Transportation also shows increasing tensions between the Department of Transport's consultant, David Hoar, who insisted that mixed tires on the 21 passenger MFAVs were acceptable, and Transport Canada's tire expert, Nigel Mortimer, who as early as November 4, 2009, advised the province that mixed tires on the 21 passenger vehicles were unsafe.
NB Consultant The Only One Who Believes Mixed Tires Safe
In one exchange dated November 20, a clearly frustrated Mortimer tells Mr. Hoar, of Motion Design Associates in Fredericton, to do the testing himself if he doesn't believe Transport Canada.
"Since you are the only one believing that winter tires are not safer on the front as well as the rear I suggest that you perform your own testing to prove the rest of us wrong."
Mr. Mortimer is Transport Canada's leading expert on tires and has a long history of involvement in motor vehicle safety. He was part of the team that tested the tires on New Brunswick's Ambulance Service which lead to winter tires being outfitted on the vehicles.
The mothers note that Ambulance NB was recently given an International Award for Safety.
"We wonder if changing to winter tires on the entire Ambulance fleet had anything to do with their safety award?" asks Acevedo.
Mothers Thank Supporters
The mothers would like to thank the following persons and companies for their assistance in making the tire testing possible:
Continental Tires, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan - Free scientific testing
John Mahler, Toronto Star's Wheels.ca - Technical advice
Girardin MiniBus, Quebec - Loan of 21 passenger MFAV for testing
Loblaws - Transportation of 21 passenger MFAV from Ontario to Michigan return
Bathurst Airport Authority - For three airline passes from Bathurst to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario return
Anonymous Supporter - For financial assistance towards the costs of transportation and accommodation
"And a big thank you to everyone who supported us in their own way."