Hamilton

Victims of RHVP crashes not given full participation rights in inquiry

The inquiry into the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) has ruled applicants who were injured or lost loved ones in crashes on the deadly road will not be granted full participation rights.

The inquiry is tasked with answering 24 questions about the parkway

Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel has determined who will be allowed standing in the inquiry into the Red Hill Valley Parkway. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The inquiry into the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) has ruled applicants who were injured or lost loved ones in crashes on the deadly road will not be granted full participation rights.

But that doesn't necessarily mean their voices won't be heard.

Full participation rights mean access to a database of documents, the ability to suggest people to interview and being a witness or examining witnesses during public hearings.

In giving the reasons for his decision, Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel ruled those rights should be granted to the city, province and two companies involved in the construction and testing of the parkway.

Among those who were not given full participation rights were Jodi Gawrylash, who was "catastrophically injured" in a single-car rollover on the King Street off-ramp of the parkway in 2011 and Belinda Marazzato, whose daughter Olivia Smosarski and her best friend Jordyn Hastings died in a crash on the road in 2015.

Marazatto made an oral submission asking to be part of the inquiry, saying she felt her daughter would have insisted she participate.

"We are forever haunted that we could not protect our daughters," she explained at the time. "We owe it to Jordyn and Olivia to help you protect other people's children."

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)

While he acknowledged the pain and suffering both women had endured and said the inquiry would benefit from their experience, the justice said he wasn't satisfied that either of them were "uniquely situated to offer any other information or assistance" to the inquiry as a participant.

Wilton-Siegel also decided to exclude six applicants from different law firms, writing he did not believe they had the authority to act on behalf of a group of concerned citizens and that their ongoing court actions, including a class-action lawsuit involving RHVP victims, are the "appropriate forum" to determine any fault for crashes.

He noted the purpose of the inquiry is not to "reconstruct specific accidents" on the parkway. Instead, it's focused on the testing that was carried out, why results weren't made public and safety on the road.

However, in order to make sure the issues of victims are addressed, Wilton-Siegel proposed five steps the inquiry could take, including hosting a public forum where people who have been personally affected by crashes on the parkway can be heard.

The inquiry will also accept written submissions from participants and non-participants after the public hearings end.

Wilton-Siegel added applications for participation in the inquiry will remain open to allow for that voice to be heard.

"The Inquiry's process would be well-served by having a representative voice from a broad-based group of concerned citizens..." he wrote in part.

"Such a group could include, but need not be limited to, individuals who are victims of accidents, whether as injured parties or as family members or friends of injured parties."

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

It's tasked with answering 24 questions that cover five general areas:

  • The friction report carried out by Golder Associates Ltd. subcontractor Tradewind in 2013 and why it wasn't provided to city council or the public until 2018.
  • Issues around friction testing the province carried out on the RHVP in 2007, how it compared to the findings of 2013 report and why it wasn't made public or handed over to city council.
  • Whether the city or province completed any other testing on the parkway including friction, asphalt or general road safety and, if so, how they compare to the 2007 and 2013 test results.
  • What standards, if any, Ontario has for determining acceptable friction levels.
  • And finally, how factors other than friction such as driver behaviour, lighting and weather contribute to crashes on the RHVP.

Wilton-Siegel's decision comes after a meeting on Dec. 10 where nine applicants made oral submissions, stating their case for participating or funding.

Dufferin Construction Company, which built the section of road in question, will be granted full participation rights, along with Golder, the lead consultant on the friction report the inquiry stems from.

However, the justice did not recommend funding Golder even though representatives argued the cost to participate, estimated in the range of $200,000, would be shouldered by the 20 partners who make up the geotechnical group.

Wilton-Siegel noted Golder's request was not based on an inability to pay and ruled the cost of the inquiry couldn't be considered an "extraordinary and unforeseen expense."

Still, he left the door open for possible funding in the future, as long as the group includes a detailed breakdown of fees and evidence showing its "intention to participate meaningfully" in the inquiry.

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