Logging road near where Quebec nurse's body found is closed, but questions remain
GPS suggests logging road as possible route 'regardless of whether it is maintained'
A logging road in northern Quebec near where a young nurse's body was found is now closed, but there are still many unanswered questions about how to keep travellers safe from harm when their GPS or Google Maps send them on the wrong route.
The body of a 29-year-old Brossard nurse, George He, was found last Thursday on a logging road north of the municipality of La Morandière, Que., located northeast of Val d'Or.
He was on his way to work for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay in Nemaska when his truck became stuck on an unusable bridge some 20 kilometres away from where his body was found, according to the Sûreté du Québec. Police are still investigating.
The logging road, where his vehicle was found, branches from the provincially maintained highway Route 397, and through Route Vassal, a 6.6-kilometre stretch of road maintained by the municipality of La Morandière.
This past weekend, another truck needed to be towed off that same road after the driver's GPS suggested it as a possible route between Val d'Or and Matagami, some 200 kilometres to the north.
[GPS] will give you the shortest route regardless of whether it is maintained.- Serge Belzile, Owner of Remorquage Belzile
"I think the [Quebec government] will have to do something, but we have to talk about that," said Sandra Hardy, general manager of La Morandière.
After the incident, Hardy sent her employees to put up a barrier. There is now a sign saying the road is closed.
"At least something will tell those people 'oops this is not a good road to go on,'" said Hardy, but she says something more permanent needs to be done.
Serge Belzile says he sees people misdirected all the time by their GPS. Belzile is the owner of Remorquage Belzile, an Abitibi region company that was called in to help recover He's vehicle and tow the tractor trailer which got stuck on the weekend.
"If [the GPS] is badly programmed it will give you the shortest route regardless of whether it is maintained or even passable," said Belzile. "It happens often in our region where we have a lot of logging roads."
As of Wednesday late afternoon, Google Maps was still offering up the logging road as a possible route between Louvicourt and Matagami.
A spokesperson for the Quebec Transport Ministry says travellers need to stop putting their faith in their GPS and Google maps and consult their Quebec511 website or application, which offers information on road conditions on the provincial highway network.
"Please stay on the main roads," said Luc Adam with the ministry, adding travellers should also make sure they have an emergency kit in their vehicle before heading out on the road.
Logging roads in Quebec are the responsibility of the Quebec Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Ministry, according to spokesperson Geneviève Décarie.
She said just in the area of Nord-du-Québec sector 10 where He was found, there are 67,000 square kilometres of logging roads and the ministry rarely closes one down after the company has finished its work because it's used by others, such as hunters, mining companies and snowmobilers. The roads are allowed to "return to nature."
Décarie also said there are rules around bridges on provincial logging roads and they are inspected regularly. She said there were two signs clearly visible before the bridge where He's vehicle got stuck indicating it was closed.
Décarie declined to comment on what else could be done to make it safer for travellers.
CBC requested an interview with the minister of Forestry, Wildlife and Parks, which wasn't answered in time for publication. CBC also contacted the Cree Nation Government for comment but didn't hear back.
Adam, with the Ministry of Transport, also said he and several Abitibi residents reached out to Google to get them to stop recommending the route to travellers.
When asked about the problems with Google Maps presenting unkept logging roads as route options, a Google spokesperson said this:
"We were saddened to hear about this tragedy. We rely on a variety of different sources to keep our maps up to date including contributions from users, satellite imagery and up to date road information from governments. When we learn of an inaccuracy we work to address it as quickly as possible."
The spokesperson did not respond to followup questions about whether anything could be done technically to address the issue, or whether a disclaimer or warning could be added to the service.
With files from Peter Tardif and Jean-Marc Belzile