Lack of cellular service criticized after road accident death of Waswanipi man

Twenty-five year old Waswanipi, Que., resident Caleb Brien was killed when struck on highway 113 on July 5. The driver of the vehicle had to travel to find cell service to call an ambulance.

Driver forced to leave scene of the accident along Highway 113 to call for help

The Sûreté du Québec is assisting the Quebec Coroner's office in an investigation into an accident that killed a 25-year-old Waswanipi resident early Monday morning on Highway 113. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Waswanipi resident Caleb Brien has been identified by the Sûreté du Québec as the person killed after being hit by a vehicle in the early morning of July 5 in northern Quebec, and local officials say a lack of cellular coverage is putting travellers in the region at risk.

The 25-year-old was hit by a vehicle while walking along Highway 113 north of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, near the Cree community of Waswanipi around 12:30 a.m. on Monday. 

The driver of a van was originally suspected of hit and run and was brought in for questioning, but was later released, according to SQ spokesperson Hugues Beaulieu. 

"We learned that he had not fled the scene; [but] rather, he continued driving in order to get to a spot with cell service to call for help," said Beaulieu, adding police also questioned other eyewitnesses.

He continued driving in order to get to a spot with cell service to call for help.-   Hugues Beaulieu, SQ spokesperson

Risks for travellers

The accident has reopened a debate about the risks to travellers in the region because of a lack of cell coverage along thousands of kilometres of highway, according to René Dubé, the President of Le conseil d'administration de l'Administration régionale Baie-James.

The ARBJ is an administrative body governing the non-Indigenous towns in the region of Chapais, Chibougamau, Lebel-sur-Quévillon and Matagami.

"Formerly, there were telephone boxes along the road, but now they are gone," said Dubé, adding the lack of coverage also has negative impacts on economic development. 

"When we talk about development, we have to be able to provide safe environments for visitors and the people who live in the territory," he said.

Eeyou Mobility, a mobile wireless service, is working to bring better cellular coverage to the nine Cree communities, as well as the non-Cree towns in the region in the next three to five years, according to Cédric Melançon, managing director of the Eeyou Communication Network, one of the partners in Eeyou Mobility. 

He said planning is also underway for highway and access road coverage, to improve traveller safety across the region.

"We are still talking about the construction of a large number of towers to cover 1900 kilometres of road throughout the region, so a horizon of three to five years seems realistic to us," Melançon said.

The investigation into the accident that caused the death of Caleb Brien has been handed over to the Quebec Coroner's office. 

The Sûreté du Québec is assisting the investigation.

With files from Annie-Claude Luneau, Radio-Canada