11 documents made public as Day 1 of Red Hill Valley Parkway inquiry gets underway in Hamilton

The inquiry is set to examine how a damning report about friction levels on some parts of the RHVP stayed buried for six years.

Phase 1 of the RHVP inquiry is set to run until August 2022

Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel is heading up the Red Hill Valley Parkway inquiry, which started Monday following a nearly three-year wait. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Eleven documents were made public as hearings in the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) Inquiry started Monday.

The city called for the inquiry of the RHVP nearly three years ago to investigate a 2013 friction report involving the roadway. 

The inquiry will examine how the damning report stayed buried for six years. It will explore questions such as who saw the report, why council wasn't told and if drivers were put at risk as a result. 

The 2013 report from Tradewind Scientific showed friction in some areas of the highway fell well below U.K. safety standards (there are no similar standards in North America). 

Between 2005 and 2015, there were 201 collisions on the highway. The 2015 deaths of Jordyn Hastings and Olivia Smosarki were the first of several on the highway.

The city said in 2018 that the report was only found in a locked computer folder after the city hired a new engineering director.

The total estimated cost of the inquiry, according to city legal staff, could total between $18 and $20 million.

Robert Centa, lead commission counsel on the inquiry, said the inquiry is not a trial, even though witnesses are under oath to tell the truth. 

The hearings, led by Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel, won't lead to conclusions about civil or criminal liability, but Centa said it will establish the facts.

Overview documents released

The 11 documents released Monday are "overview documents" according to Centa.

Centa said they summarize roughly 4,500 documents on topics such as RHVP design, the 2013 Tradewind Scientific report and how people found out about the 2013 report — but he also said the facts in the documents haven't been tested for their truth.

"Commission counsel and the participants may call evidence from witnesses at the inquiry that casts doubt on the truthfulness or the accuracy of the content of the documents underlying the overview documents themselves," Centa said.

"Participants will also be free to make submissions regarding what, if any, weight will be given to any one of these documents."

The commissioner will make the findings a fact in his final report after receiving all the evidence and submissions.

The commission is also trying to get the city to release some more documents.

Eli Lederman, counsel for the City of Hamilton, said the city has already released numerous documents and said the 43 unique documents in question contain information that is legally privileged (e.g. legal advice).

Wilton-Siegel assigned Frank Marrocco — associate chief justice of the Ontario Superior Court — as a delegate who will determine how to proceed with those documents and how much of that decision-making will be public.

First witness to appear Tuesday

There are four parties involved in the inquiry — the city, the province, Dufferin Construction and Golder Associates Inc. (a consulting, design and construction firm) — but over 100 people were interviewed prior to the hearing on Monday.

Gerardo Flintsch is listed as the first witness to appear in the hearing. 

Flintsch, set to appear Tuesday, is a professor of engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the U.S. He's also the director of the institute's Center for Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.

Centa said Flintsch and the witness after him will help offer background information on the scientific issues that will inform the inquiry.

The first phase of the inquiry is expected to run into August of this year and will focus on questions related to the RHVP construction, friction testing conducted by Ontario's Ministry of Transportation, consultant and staff reports and the discovery of the report on friction testing released to the public according to a media release. 

(Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A schedule of witnesses will be regularly available on the inquiry website and through its twitter account.

The hearings are being publicly broadcast through a link on the inquiry's website.

Centa said the hearings will generally run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each week from Monday to Thursday until August. Times and dates can vary (for example, this week will see hearings from Monday to Friday).

A recording and transcript of each day of the hearing will be made available through the inquiry's website.

With files from Saira Peesker