Families of crash victims, consultant behind friction report among applicants at RHVP inquiry

Nine applicants made oral submissions to take part in the Red Hill Valley Parkway Inquiry during its first full-day session Friday.

'We are forever haunted that we could not protect our daughters:' Belinda Marazzato

Belinda Marazatto, whose daughter Olivia Smosarski died on the Red Hill Valley Parkway in 2015, was one of nine applicants asking to take part the inquiry. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Belinda Marazzato stood before the Red Hill Valley Parkway Inquiry Friday and said she owes it to her daughter to take part.

"Olivia would want me to participate in this inquiry. In fact she would insist," she said.

"I was horrified out find out years later that...reports which identified problems with the road long before that night were never disclosed or acted upon. To think that had they been we would still have our daughters torments me."

Olivia Smosarski and her friend Jordyn Hastings were driving on the parkway in May 2015 when their vehicle crossed the centre median of the collided with a minivan, killing them both.

The mother was one of nine applicants at a gathering at city hall who made oral submissions to take part in the inquiry that will examine how a report identifying concerns about the road's safety was kept under wraps for years. 

While her reason for participating was personal, other applicants raised professional grounds.

Among them was Golder Associats Ltd., the lead consultant on the friction report the inquiry stems from. A lawyer argued the firm should be permitted to take part in order to defend the integrity of its work and the advice it gave the city about the parkway.

Mother says she's 'forever haunted'

Marazzato said she believes "all roads" lead to something being wrong with the parkway surface.

"The morning after the accident I went to the scene," she said. "I had a deep and unshakable knowledge that this road was not safe."

The mother explained the trauma and tragedy both her and Hastings's family suffered brought them together.

"We are forever haunted that we could not protect our daughters," Marazzato explained. "We owe it to Jordan and Olivia to help you protect other people's children."

The inquiry was launched after the city revealed a 2013 Tradewind Scientific that found the asphalt friction on some sections of the parkway fell well below UK safety standards.

A year ago, city council said it hadn't seen the report. Officials said it was found in a locked computer folder after a new director of engineering was hired.

Golder says the report was brought up in multiple meetings over the years, along with safety recommendations.

Jennifer Roberts, the lawyer who spoke for Golder Friday, expanded on those statements. She said the consultant brought in Tradewind to carry out friction testing when it was contracted to evaluate the parkway's performance and friction in 2013.

"It will be Golder's evidence that there were successive, subsequent discussions with Hamilton about the friction testing results and advice given as to how frictional quality of the surface could be improved," she said.

Jennifer Roberts, the lawyer representing Golder Associates Ltd., said the consultant discussed ways to improve friction on the parkway with the city after the report was completed, contrary to what officials have said. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The lawyer also took on the terms of reference used to guide the inquiry.

"The terms of reference are framed as though the friction findings in the Tradewind report were the sole instance in which advice was provided to Hamilton in relation to the frictional quality of the pavement," she said. "Forgive us for challenging the assumptions in the terms of reference, but we don't agree with them."

Consultant asking for funding, citing 'fairness'

Golder is also requesting funding to support its participation in the inquiry.

Roberts acknowledged the corporation isn't a "tidy fit" for funding, but argued the the inquiry should be considered an "extraordinary and unforeseen expense."

She also pointed out two of the primary participants — the city and province — have access to public funding, saying that "raises questions of fairness and maintaining an even playing field."

Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel, the commissioner of the inquiry, raised a hypothetical question in response — what if the inquiry determines Golder contributed to the issue on the parkway? Wouldn't that mean the corporation would have improperly received funding?

"If I thought there was a remote chance that there could be a finding of fault … I would not be making this submission," Roberts responded.

Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel is the commissioner of the inquiry. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The safety of the highway has been an issue in recent years. Several families of people injured or killed there have insisted the highway is unsafe. Some are suing the city now.

Robert Hooper, the lawyer representing 200-250 parties involved in a class action suit, also made submissions Friday.

"You will hear from our group that there are certain similarities … that all of the accidents have in common," he said.

Wilton-Siegel asked Hooper if he would be prepared to choose between the class action suit and speaking on behalf of those people during the inquiry.

Hooper did not immediately respond, but said he would provide an answer in writing shortly.

The inquiry isn't expected to start hearing testimony until the fall. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The inquiry is being closely watched by industry experts.

Shortly after the presentations ended Ahmed Shalaby, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Manitoba and who specializes in pavement and highway design, took to Twitter to share his thoughts.

"The #RHVP friction case could be 'The Black Swan' that changes the rules. I hope so," he tweeted. "Will there be friction test standards for Canadian roads? or even guidelines?"

Wilton-Siegel did not determine who will be able to participate in the inquiry Friday. A written order explaining his decision will be provided in the coming weeks. The inquiry isn't expected to start hearing testimony until the fall.

with files from Samatha Craggs