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National

Urgent action needed to improve bus safety: Transportation Safety Board

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OTTAWA — The head of the Transportation Safety Board says Canada needs to move fast on better national “crashworthiness” standards for buses and other commercial passenger vehicles in light of two deadly bus collisions over the last year.

Last week’s double-decker transit bus crash in Ottawa that killed three people and injured 23 others, as well as the Humboldt hockey-team bus collision that killed 16 and injured 13 last April, highlight the need for passenger buses to meet stricter safety guidelines, TSB chair Kathy Fox said in an interview.

“We know that these buses don’t have to meet the same standards that our cars have to meet or that school buses have to meet, and we think that needs to change because in some types of collisions, they don’t necessarily have the kind of protection that passengers should be able to expect when they’re travelling on public transport,” Fox said.

“This is a Canadian issue, it’s not just an issue in Ottawa.”

Calls have been made for the federal agency to lead the investigation into the Ottawa bus crash, as it did when another double-decker OC Transpo bus collided with a moving passenger train in 2013, killing six people. The involvement of the train in that case allowed the TSB to head the investigation, with authority to compel evidence and provide national recommendations. 

The more recent Ottawa and Humboldt crashes did not fall within the federal agency’s jurisdiction because they only involved road vehicles. The National Transportation Safety Board in the United States, meanwhile, does have the authority to conduct accident probes involving commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses.

Fox said the TSB has a particular interest in the Ottawa crash because of key findings from the 2013 OC Transpo collision investigation. It found large vehicles over 26,000 pounds in Canada are not required to meet the same standards as smaller passenger vehicles or school buses when it comes to front-impact, side-impact, rollover or crush protection.

In Friday’s crash, the upper deck of the Ottawa city bus hit a shelter, whose roof cut several rows deep into the bus’s right side. Many of the injured survivors required amputations.

The 2013 probe also called for all commercial passenger buses to be equipped with event data recorders, similar to those required for planes, trains and marine vessels.

Rob Johnston, who led the investigation into the 2013 crash, says the OC Transpo double-decker bus did meet all applicable safety standards. The problem is those standards need to be strengthened, he says.

“The deficiency really lies with the Canadian motor-vehicle safety standards with regards to vehicles in excess of 26,000 (pounds),” he said.

“Without those standards being improved upon, there is going to be some risk,” he said, acknowledging that many people do travel safely on these vehicles daily.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau was not made available for an interview, but in a statement, his office said steps have been taken to address the recommendations from the 2013 TSB investigation.

“We have completed a review of accident data from urban centres to support the potential development of a standard for crashworthiness,” said Garneau’s media-relations manager Delphine Denis.

“Work is already underway to bolster this review through tests on bus structures to inform next steps.”

The last interaction Transport Canada had with the TSB on this work was a year ago, Fox says. She was encouraged to hear the department is taking the recommendations into consideration and doing some research. But in the meantime, the Humboldt and Ottawa crashes have killed more Canadians.

Proposed changes would take time, and might only apply to vehicles manufactured in the future. The time to act is now, Fox said.

“With the evidence that we have in hand, it’s time to take urgent action to expedite the activities that his department is taking to look at the development and implementation of crashworthiness standards for these buses.”

The 2013 TSB review also looked at OC Transpo driver training and did identify some deficiencies in how the organization monitors its drivers’ records.

While the details of the 2013 accident are different from the most recent one’s, questions are being raised about how the Ottawa transit agency deals with driver infractions in light of new revelations about the driver at the wheel in last week’s crash. The Canadian Press has confirmed she was involved in at least one other significant collision in December. 

When asked about the driver Monday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson would only say it is a matter before Ottawa police and that he did not want to prejudice the investigation by making an off-hand remark.

Other Ottawa council members have echoed the sentiment, saying they want the police to determine just what happened on the road Friday before considering how and why it did.

Watson added that he has full confidence in the safety of Ottawa’s fleet of transit buses, including the 74 double-deckers it added in 2012.

“If there is new information that comes from the police investigation, we will take that into account, but at this point I have full confidence that our mechanics and our professional staff have done and will continue to do everything they can to ensure that our entire bus fleet is safe and reliable.”

—Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Agriculture

151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot

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VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.

The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.

The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.

“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.

He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.

An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.

A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.

James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.

Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.

“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.

James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.

“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”

James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.

Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.

The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.

“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”

James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Education

School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar

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A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.

Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.

The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.

The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.

The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.

“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.

Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.

The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.

The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.

The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.

Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.

“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.

Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.

“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”

 

 

 

 

 

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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