Ontario’s chief coroner’s office has decided against holding a public inquest into a road crash that killed 10 farm workers and a truck driver last year, concluding one of the province’s deadliest-ever collisions was solely the result of driver error.
Dan Cass, interim chief coroner, said Monday the decision was made after reviewing the deaths and consulting with the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Labour.
“A number of factors were considered, including fatigue, weather, road conditions, road design, work hours, brakes, licensing of drivers, familiarity with the area,” Dr. Cass said. “And none of those were considered to be contributory … These deaths were really the result of driver error.”The Agriculture Workers Alliance disagrees with the coroner’s call. Stan Raper, the organization’s national co-ordinator, believes an inquest would have helped shed light on the challenges facing temporary foreign farm workers in Canada.
Nine of the 10 agricultural workers who perished last February were migrant labourers from Peru, toiling on Ontario’s poultry farms to build a better life for their families back home.
The crash occurred at the end of their work day in the Southern Ontario hamlet of Hampstead. Travelling in a 15-seat van, the farm workers were headed to their homes in Kitchener when the van’s driver failed to yield at a stop sign for a transport truck, a police investigation determined. Truck driver Chris Fulton, who lived in London, Ont., also died. Three farm workers survived.
“There are some serious problems in the agriculture sector in the transportation of farm workers and the lack of regulations, the lack of health and safety,” Mr. Raper said. “The coroner has the flexibility to investigate and do inquests into matters that he thinks are serious. And I don’t know how much more serious it can be when 10 farm workers are dead and a truck driver is dead.”
In Ontario, inquests can lead to blueprints for improving safety and preventing deaths. They can also serve as a catalyst for changes to legislation and policies. However in this case, Dr. Cass said there are no recommendations to make.