A youth group’s decision to send a tour bus packed with 36 children from Quebec to New Brunswick during a blizzard last Sunday has sparked a storm of controversy.
The group was returning to New Brunswick from a trip to Rimouski on Sunday night when the charter bus started running into snowy conditions as it made its way through the northern part of the province.
There were 36 children between 12 and 18 years old and 11 adults on board the Coach Atlantic Bus.
While the bus driver was navigating the stormy conditions, parents at home waiting for their children were receiving frantic cellphone, Facebook and text messages from their kids. In those messages, the children were saying they were scared and feared for their lives.
Sylvie Robichaud, a parent who was on the bus with her 12-year-old daughter, said the bus should never have left Rimouski given the widespread storm warnings in New Brunswick.
Miramichi Police Sgt. Bob Bruce said he started receiving phone calls from parents late on Sunday afternoon who were concerned about the bus travelling in the storm.
"They were concerned for the safety of the youth because they had been getting cell phone calls from youth saying that the roads were fairly hazardous and they were concerned for their children’s safety," he said.
So the Miramichi police intercepted the bus at a drop-off site in the northern city. At that point, the bus driver decided to park the bus in Miramichi for the night.
All 48 people who were on the bus were housed at a local hotel for free.
Coach Atlantic says it's up to the bus driver to determine when the roads are not safe for travel.
Maria Daigle, the youth group’s co-ordinator, was in charge of the Rimouski trip. She said she trusted the bus driver’s judgment to continue driving on Sunday.
"We could see the yellow lines at all times and I was sitting right in the front so once in a while I would get down and I would look to see what he was seeing," she said.
While she could see the snow falling, Daigle said she was unaware of the storm of controversy that was brewing at the back of the bus among the children and some of the other adult passengers.
"I guess some of them got nervous, but they didn’t tell us, they didn’t tell me," she said.
Daigle said the concern about the driving conditions has been blown out of proportion.
"I would never, never put them in danger," she said.
"I know what it's like to lose a child. I did lose one when he was six and a half years old and to me these children that I bring there are like my own children," Daigle added.