Fiona Tapp is an Ottawa-based writer
Being soaked with dirty curb water by a fast passing vehicle feels like a cold, full-body slap.
In what seemed like a prank caught on dashcam footage that subsequently went viral, a driver of a van in Ottawa was shown appearing to veer purposely into large puddles in an effort to soak pedestrians. This followed a particularly heavy thunderstorm, which left deep puddles along King Edward Avenue.
The first person was holding an umbrella, which proved completely redundant in the face of a wall of water that thundered down.
Like many people who watched the video, I felt angry that somebody could be so mean to a total stranger. It was like watching a schoolyard bully in action. This seemingly mean behaviour, especially in notoriously polite Ottawa, felt like an attack on civility.
The driver repeated this three times in roughly 45 seconds. I tried to imagine what was going through his mind at the time but all I could picture was a thug, like Biff from Back to the Future, chuckling as he soaked innocent people. Were there other people in the van with him, egging him on or perhaps urging him to stop?
I don’t know what happened inside the van – but afterward, I know that the driver was fired.
Some people feel the punishment was an overreaction to what amounted to a practical joke. But the punishment didn’t go far enough in my opinion – I would have wanted the driver charged with assault.
The driver didn’t know what was in those puddles. He couldn’t be sure that stones or broken glass wouldn’t also be sent up along with the shower of rainwater. He didn’t care whether the person he was targeting might have had an existing injury or disability that could have made this prank even more serious. He didn’t know where these people were going or how far from home they were or how much it would inconvenience or ruin their entire day.
I know how that feels. I was the brunt of another Ottawa driver’s prank four years ago.
I had a new baby born early into the new year and we were getting fed up with being stuck inside by the cold weather. On this particular afternoon, a slight thaw had melted the ice off the sidewalks and made it safer to go for a stroll.
I wrapped my new babe up and set off along Albion Road, not far from our home. About 10 minutes into our walk, a car that was driving too fast for the conditions veered across the lanes until he was hugging the curb and barrelling down upon us. As he screeched past, he forced up an arc of dirty, slushy, freezing cold water which covered us, as I leaned my body over the baby carriage, trying in vain to protect my little one.
We were both left drenched in icy cold water. I yelled, I cursed, I cried. Then I had to hurry home to get in a warm shower with my baby as he bawled.
Even though a total stranger did it, the attack felt personal.
I called my doctor in a panic, convinced that this incident had somehow injured my new baby. Thankfully, after a cuddle and a warm change of clothes, he was fine. But this was a purposeful act, and it could have had far more serious consequences.
The water was very cold, only hours before the thaw it had been solid ice, what if we had been further from home? What if a chunk of ice had hit either of us? What if I had fallen over from the impact and let go of the stroller?
After the footage of last week’s incident went viral, Sergeant Mark Gatien from the Ottawa police force told CTV News that there was no doubt there was intent and that he was concerned the pedestrians could have been injured. The driver could have faced charges of mischief for every splashing incident, Sgt. Gatien said, and if any of the pedestrians had fallen over or become injured as a result of the splashing, those charges could have been elevated to assault. In the end, charges were not laid.
When it happened to me and my baby, I didn’t feel like someone had played a mischievous prank on me, it wasn’t a joke, it wasn’t a game. We were attacked, and the punishment should reflect that.
For all three of those recently targeted pedestrians, it was likely the worst thing to happen to them all day and by the end of the saga, it turned out to be a pretty bad day for the driver, too. I wonder if it was worth the laugh in hindsight.