Mother of Bathurst bus crash victim still fighting for change nine years after tragedy
January 12 is always a solemn anniversary in New Brunswick, since a bus crash killed seven members of the Bathurst High School basketball team and the coach's wife when their van collided with a transport truck. Since that day, family members, and those who support them, have pushed for change in New Brunswick.
Isabelle Hains, mother of victim Daniel Hains, passed on nearly 2,000 questions to a Crown prosecutor during the 2009 inquest into the tragedy. Families couldn't get standing at the coroner’s inquest, leaving many of their questions unanswered - something she says still hasn't changed.
Hains' group, 'Van Angels,' has fought for the government to update the New Brunswick Coroners Act, and she still remembers feeling shut out of the Bathurst inquest whenever she sees another family in the same situation.
“I just feel for them, I say, ‘Oh my gosh, if they only knew what they have to go through to get the answers they want,’” says Hains.
“It's unbelievable that we're still dealing with a Coroner's Act that doesn't do so many things for the living and for the dead,” says Van Angels member Melynda Jarratt. “If its aim is to protect the living, I don't think it achieves its goal.”
David O'Brien, a past president of New Brunswick Bar Association, has spent more than a decade pushing for an overhaul of the New Brunswick Coroners Act, fighting to give families and other groups legal standing when it comes to coroner's inquests.
“I think we should take another kick at the can,” says O'Brien. “We're the only jurisdiction in the country that does not permit that. All other jurisdictions have agreed it's a good idea and implemented it, some of them, like Ontario, as long ago as the 1970s.”
Legal standing gives interested parties the right to hire their own lawyers, call witnesses, and ask questions during an inquest.
“It comes from a different perspective if you have members of the family who can ask their own questions rather than having to pass notes to a Crown prosecutor,” says O'Brien.
Hains and Jarratt believe acts adopted by other provinces are more effective.
Moncton native Ashley Smith was the subject of an inquiry after her 2007 death in an Ontario jail.
Her family was able to gain legal standing in Ontario and participate in two inquests, which lawyers say was vital in obtaining the eventual verdict of homicide, rather than an accident.
In the years since the Smith inquiry, there are numerous examples of families fighting and failing to obtain legal standing in New Brunswick inquests - from the Serena Perry case in Saint John to the October inquest into the death of Dorchester inmate Glen Edward Wareham.
“2003, 2008, 2009, 2011, and I wrote the last letter in 2013 to whoever was in power in 2013!” says O'Brien. “Liberals, Conservatives, we never really got a principled response as to why they declined to do what's been done everywhere else in the country.”
The Bar Association hasn't requested that the Gallant government update the act, but feel change needs to come soon.
The Department of Justice and Public Safety did not respond to CTV's request for comment on Thursday.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Cami Kepke