Montreal relies on private contractors to haul snow. They are paid by the load. ((Canadian Press))

A coroner's inquest into the deaths of four Montrealers killed last year by snowplows got underway in Laval on Monday.

The victims were all pedestrians crossing the street when they were hit by passing snow-clearing vehicles.

Three of them died on the same day — Solange St-Onge, 72, and Jean-Paul Pinet, 71, were killed Feb. 3 while crossing Sherbrooke Street in front of the Notre-Dame Hospital. Lucie Rivard Lanouette, 76, was run over by a snowplow a few hours later in Ahuntsic.

Rajaa Benkiran, a 49-year-old nurse and mother of two, was killed on Dec. 15 in the Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough.


Rajaa Benkiran poses in an undated family photo with her son Alami Marrouni Réda. ((CBC))

Their deaths prompted city officials to promise better pedestrian safety and a review of snowplowing procedures.

Many questions were raised about standard safety procedures in place for private contractors hired by the City of Montreal to clear snow. They are paid by the volume of snow they cart away.

On Monday, the driver involved in the Côte-des-Neiges death will testify at the coroner's inquest.

He is one of 18 witnesses expected to take the stand.

The inquest is mandated to determine the causes and circumstances of all four accidents and issue recommendations if warranted.

Montreal has had no reported incidents involving snow-clearing machinery this year, in which there has been below-average snowfall.