Friday, May 21, 2010

Private Members Bill will outlaw "Death Traps" for transporting school children

Bathurst Mother will be in Ottawa to witness introduction of Bill

(Bathurst, NB - May 21, 2010) - A Private Members Bill that proposes to ban the use of 15 passenger vans for transporting school children is earning the praise of three Bathurst mothers whose sons were killed in a tragic passenger van collision two and a half years ago.

Isabelle Hains, Ana Acevedo and Marcella Kelly have been advised by their Member of Parliament, Yvon Godin (Acadie-Bathurst) that his Private Members Bill to ban 15 passenger vans will be introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday, May 27. A press conference will be held on Thursday at the National Press Theatre, 150 Wellington Street, Ottawa, (time to be announced).

Since the deaths of their sons in January 2008, the Bathurst mothers have led the charge for improved child transportation safety in New Brunswick and across Canada. In February, they forced the province of New Brunswick to change its winter tire policy on 21 passenger Multi Function Activity Vehicles used to transport children to extra curricular activities.

"It's all about the safety of children," says Isabelle Hains, who will be in to Ottawa for the Bill's introduction along with Stella Gurr, a mother from British Columbia whose son was also killed in an accident involving a 15 passenger van. Also present will be Delalene Harris-Foran, a school bus driver from Miramichi and Provincial President of CUPE 1253 (NB Council of School District Unions).

"It's about time the federal government outlawed the use of these vehicles for transporting children," says Hains, adding, "We don't want another tragedy to happen."

Hains says the 15 passenger vans were never intended to transport people, "especially school children, who rely on adults to make the safety decisions for them." She says the vehicles were originally designed by Ford, Chrysler and General Motors to haul cargo. In the 1970s, the vans evolved to meet a market demand for vehicles that could transport more than ten passengers. They were extended in length and equipped with seats, becoming a favourite of schools, non-profit organizations and clubs looking for an alternate means of transporting groups of children to and from extra-curricular events at a time when governments slashed education and transportation budgets.

The white 1997 Ford Econoline van in which the seven members of the Bathurst High School Phantoms basketball team were killed was originally used to haul linen. It was purchased for use by Bathurst Van Inc., a for-profit company run by the High School Principal, Vice Principal and two teachers. The company intended to replace the ill-fated van but the tragic accident occured before that could happen.

Hains says there is a dark side to the 15 passenger van story that came into focus following the Bathurst tragedy.

She says that until her son's death, she had no idea that the same 15 passenger vans were the subject of "considerable controversy" across Canada and the United States for many years. She says "there wasn't enough public awareness about the danger of these vehicles before our sons were killed," but in the aftermath of the Bathurst tragedy, she and other parents discovered that the vans are banned for use in transporting children in more than 30 American states.

"All you have to do is google '15 passenger van' and you'll see what kind of death traps our children have been travelling in for so many years," she said.

Nova Scotia already banned 15 passenger vans for school transportation after two fatal accidents, one involving the death of four members of a high school hockey team in 1986. There are various levels of prohibition on the use of the vehicles in Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.

A fatal accident in British Columbia involving farm workers two years ago led to an inquest which also raised the dangers of using what are essentially cargo vans for transporting human beings.

Immediately after the Bathurst collision in January 2008, the New Brunswick government banned the 15 passenger vans and replaced them with 21 passenger Multi Function Activity Vehicles (MFAVs) which have all the safety, engineering and child protection features common on traditional yellow school buses. There are currently 14 MFAVs in use by school districts in New Brunswick.

"The experts have known for years that these 15 passenger vans are death traps and they have been trying in vain to get them banned," says Hains. "It was only after the death of our sons in such a tragic way that Canadians finally woke up to the fact that these vehicles should not be used to transport human beings, especially vulnerable, innocent children who depend on the wisdom of adults for their safety."

Hains says she hopes that Mr. Godin's Private Members Bill will receive all party support. She and the other mothers intend to lobby the Conseratives, Liberals and Bloc Quebecois to make sure the Bill passes.