Ottawa

OC Transpo drivers, mechanics, footage to play key role at Diallo trial

Aissatou Diallo alone is now on trial, accused of dangerously driving an OC Transpo double-decker bus off the Transitway and into Westboro Station in Ottawa on a winter afternoon two years ago.

The City of Ottawa isn't on trial for the Westboro crash, but much of the evidence will be city-related

Police and first responders work at Westboro station where a double-decker OC Transpo bus struck the shelter on Jan. 11, 2019. The trial of the bus driver, who's pleaded not guilty to three counts of dangerous driving causing death and 35 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, is expected to last eight weeks. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Aissatou Diallo alone is now on trial at the Elgin Street courthouse, accused of dangerously driving an OC Transpo double-decker bus off the Transitway and into Westboro Station in Ottawa on a winter afternoon two years ago.

And yet, for the next eight weeks, the City of Ottawa and OC Transpo will be mentioned — and city workers called as witnesses — at every turn.

Diallo was, after all, a municipal employee, driving a city bus, on a city road driven almost exclusively by city vehicles when it left that road and collided with a bus shelter.

Police had investigated and cleared the City of Ottawa itself of criminal wrongdoing by the summer of 2019, when they laid 38 criminal charges against Diallo. She has since pleaded not guilty to three counts of dangerous driving causing the deaths of Judy Booth, Anja Van Beek, and Bruce Thomlinson, and 35 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Two years after that crash, when many lives were changed and emergency vehicles sped to the scene, Justice Matthew Webber and the public began hearing details this week about what could have caused the transit tragedy and whether Diallo's driving was to blame.

Video footage as 'silent witnesses'

The Crown, in its opening remarks Monday, laid out the case it would make.

The bus itself was well maintained by OC Transpo mechanics and ran smoothly for the operator on the shift before Diallo took the driver's seat, they said. Prosecutors intend to argue Diallo never once slammed on the brakes or steered back onto the road during the 15 seconds in which the bus left its lane and collided with the bus shelter.

Assistant Crown attorney Louise Tansey said the most significant body of evidence her side would draw from would be 20 or so "silent witnesses": video footage shot by eight cameras on the double-decker, footage from Westboro Station and from 10 other buses, including a windshield camera from the bus travelling directly behind, as well as a data recorder on the bus.

Justice Matthew Webber, shown in the court sketch, is the judge at the trial in Ottawa's Ontario Court of Justice. Also seen is OC Transpo Special Const. Steven Delaney, who testified on the first day of the trial Monday. (Lauren Foster-MacLeod)

Many city employees will also take the witness box to provide details, and the Crown began the list Monday with two special constables who were among the first to arrive at the scene.

Already, that first cross-examination by Diallo's defence lawyers gave hints to some arguments they will eventually make.

They zeroed in on the state of the Transitway and its pavement markings. Lawyer Soloman Friedman spent time showing images of construction that had taken place the summer before the crash, and how lines painted orange for a detour had seemed to re-emerge after being painted over in black after the work was done. 

Training and driving conditions

In the weeks to come, court will also hear from the OC Transpo driver whose bus was closely following Diallo's, and other drivers who travelled in the area and all safely stopped during conditions Tansey said were "great" and free of snow and ice.

A mechanic, meanwhile, is to speak about how he drove bus No. 8155 from the crash site without encountering problems with its steering or brakes.

Then there are the details about how OC Transpo maintains its buses and trains its drivers. An OC Transpo official will describe its training program for new drivers, which Diallo passed. She received her C-licence allowing her to drive buses in 2018, Tansey said.

The public was already introduced to the nitty gritty of both OC Transpo's driver training and bus maintenance when the city's auditor-general released a pair of reports last October. Auditors found more than half of new OC Transpo drivers trained from 2017 to 2019 ended up in a collision of some kind. Nearly all preventable collisions were due not to mechanical issues, meanwhile, but driver error, the second report found.

When those audits were released, the city's transportation general manager and solicitor took care to not comment or draw linkages between their findings and the Westboro Station collision.

Nor did city solicitor David White offer any statement to media as the trial got underway Monday, because it's not their practice to comment on cases before the courts, he said. 

While its employees take part in the unfolding criminal trial, the City of Ottawa also has a big role on the civil side of the law. The city had claimed civil responsibility for the Westboro collision a year after it happened, and has been settling millions of dollars in lawsuits filed by victims.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Porter

Reporter

Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.

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