Friday, October 1, 2010

Telegraph Journal: Minister commits to testing vans, Bathurst mom says

Published Friday October 1st, 2010
A5 Chris Morris, Telegraph-Journal

A New Brunswick mother who has been crusading for a ban on 15-seat passenger vans since her son's tragic death death in Bathurst in 2008, says she has won a major victory in her campaign.

Isabelle Hains said Thursday federal Transport Minister Chuck Strahl has committed to crash-worthiness testing of the 15-seat vans as part of Transport Canada's on-going safety review of the vehicles.

Hains told the Telegraph-Journal in a phone interview from Halifax she believes it is an important step toward banning the vans for use in the transportation of children in Canada.

She said she was thinking of her son Daniel as she presented her case before a federal and provincial transportation ministers meeting in Halifax on Thursday.

Daniel, 17, was one of seven students from Bathurst High School who died ,along with a teacher in a horrific crash near the city in January, 2008.

"I think of Daniel every day and every moment of my life," she said, holding back tears. "Today was a good day and I don't have many of those."

Strahl said in a statement that he has committed to including crash-worthiness testing as part of the ongoing safety review of the 15-seat vans.

Hains said it is "huge" because it means experts will be able to determine exactly what happens in these vehicles when they roll over, when the ceiling is crushed and when there is an intrusion, similar to the Bathurst crash between the van and a tractor-trailer.

She said the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, which develops national standards, will do the crash testing on the 15-seat vans.

Hains is convinced the her son and the other victims would have had a much better chance of survival had they been riding in the smaller, more durable multi-function activity buses that are slowly replacing 15-seat vans in many places.

Strahl has agreed to examine the classification of multi-function activity buses under the school bus category.

Hains was joined in the presentation by a small group of professional school-bus drivers, an official from the Canadian Standards Association, and Stella Gurr, a woman from Nanaimo, B.C., whose 26-year-old son was also killed in 2008 in a separate 15-seat van crash in Manitoba.

The group has been lobbying governments across Canada to take steps similar to those adopted in the United States in recent years to make it illegal to transport students and children in 15-seat vans.

So far only Nova Scotia , New Brunswick and Quebec forbid schools from transporting students in such vehicles, which were originally designed as cargo vans and later sold with passenger seats.

Meanwhile, Gurr has launched a national, class-action lawsuit against the Ford Motor Co., the van's manufacturer, that seeks compensation for all Canadians who purchased the controversial vans, or whose relatives were killed or injured in them.

Gurr's son, Michael Benedetti Gurr, a 26-year-old musician from Vancouver, was killed in September 2008 when the 15-seat, Ford E-series van in which he was travelling rolled at high speed off the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba .

Gurr has hired high-profile Saskatchewan lawyer Tony Merchant - who helped pioneer the $2-billion, Indian Residential School class action against the federal government - to handle her case against Ford.

Merchant said Thursday that the Ford lawsuit, filed earlier this month in Manitoba, would eventually be filed in all 10 provinces.

"Our statement of claim asserts that these vehicles should never have been used as 15-seat passenger vans. The resulting accidents and deaths in Canada were tragic and avoidable", Merchant said in a news release.

The statement of claim has not been proven in court, and as a class action it must first be certified by a judge before it can proceed.

The Safety Forum - a U.S. consumer watchdog - has called the vans "death traps on wheels," because they lack many of the standard safety features and emergency-handling abilities of regular cars, minivans, and school buses.

Despite such warnings - buoyed by the awareness raised by the Bathurst school tragedy - most provinces still allow schools to put children in the vans.

Click here to read original article in the Telegraph Journal