Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bill calls for national ban on 'deadly' passenger vans

Bryan Murphy, a B.C. safety advocate and a school bus driver and mechanic poses in front of 15-passenger vans in Vancouver seen in this file photo.
Photograph by: Don MacKinnon, Canwest News Service

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By Laura Stone, Canwest News Service May 27, 2010

OTTAWA — A private member's bill to impose a national ban on "deadly" 15-passenger vans for student travel — and eventually all passenger travel in such vehicles in Canada — was introduced Thursday by a New Democrat MP who is urging the Conservative government to act.

The bill, from New Brunswick MP Yvon Godin, proposes a change to the Criminal Code that would make it an offence to transport students in vans with more than 10 seats and less than 17 seats.

It was a 15-passenger van that was involved in a high-profile accident that killed seven students and a teacher in Bathurst, N.B., on Jan. 12, 2008.

It would also limit the sale, import and inter-provincial shipment of vans and van parts in Canada, leading to an all-out ban on the "deadly" vehicles when used to transport passengers, said Godin.

"The reason why these vans are so dangerous is simple: They were never designed to transport passengers. They were designed to transport goods," said Godin.

"I hope for the good of the safety of our children, that the government takes the lead on this . . . and introduces a bill right after this one."

The proposed legislation would set federal regulations on the vehicles — a move that is currently done at the provinces' discretion.

Following the accident in Bathurst, a coroner's inquest recommended the vans be banned across Canada for transporting students to school and after-school activities. However, a Canwest News Service investigation last year revealed that only three provinces — Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — have imposed bans.

Transport Minister John Baird was not available for comment, but a spokesman said the minister was aware of the bill introduced Thursday.

"This accident was a real tragedy, and the minister hasn't seen the bill yet but he's happy to meet with Mr. Godin to go over his bill to put politics aside and to see what can be done," said James Kusie, Baird's spokesman.

With the image of her teenage son pinned to her lapel against a red ribbon, Isabelle Hains echoed Godin's plea for government action.

Her son, Daniel, was a member of the Bathurst High School basketball team — dubbed the Boys in Red after the accident — who was killed when their 15-passenger van swerved on the Trans-Canada Highway, colliding with a transport truck.

The New Brunswick ban was put in place after Daniel's death.

Hains said she wants a Canada-wide ban to protect others.

"The children in New Brunswick, and the children in Ontario, and Manitoba, and every other province — they're all equal. So if they're banned in New Brunswick, there's a reason why, because those vehicles are not safe for transporting children," said Hains, who carried framed pictures of her son and his teammates to Ottawa, where she witnessed the bill's introduction in Parliament.

"I know better than anyone else what could happen in a second," she said.

An inquest showed that the vans lack safety features in cars and buses that protect passengers in a crash, such as steel side plates, reinforced roofs, laminated windows and, in the case of school buses, padding and emergency exits.

The vans have also been shown to have a dangerously high centre of gravity, a tendency to fishtail at high speeds, and commonly experience loss of steering control.

The Safety Forum, a U.S. consumer watchdog, called 12 and 15-seat vans "death traps," and the U.S. government has banned their sale for the purposes of transporting children.

A Transport Canada report on the accident, issued prior to the coroner's report, blamed the crash on bad winter weather, driver error and the poor mechanical condition of the school van, but not on the van design itself.
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

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