Premier 'startled' by grieving mom's bureaucratic runaround
A mom who lost a daughter two years ago is facing astonishing secrecy as she tries to figure out whether the operator of a party bus has paid a fine connected to the death.
Chelsea James was 23 when she was riding in a party bus belonging to Silver Lady Limousine in January 2016. An investigation found the bus had an improperly installed door, which opened unexpectedly and James fell onto Burrard Street, where she was run over and killed.
An emotional Shelly James, Chelsea’s mother, said she’s exhausted from trying to get answers and she doesn’t understand why three government agencies all point to each other to provide the answer, rather than letting her see whether justice is being done in the case.
“It’s been a struggle every day and the void is huge,” she said from Prince George. “It’s been extremely hard.”
“It’s always pass the buck,” she said. “At the end of the day we lost a daughter and we have to still fight to see if these people have paid their fines? How is that right?”
B.C. Premier John Horgan told CTV News he doesn’t think it’s right either.
“I’m startled by that,” Horgan said. “We were of the view that changes had been made and justice would be served. And if families can’t find out whether that’s happened, that’s unacceptable.
He said he’s committed to working with the family to get answers to their questions.
“But more importantly we want to make sure that law enforcement and the industry understand they have an obligation to transparency on this issue as well,” Horgan said.
The Vancouver Police didn’t recommend any criminal charges in Chelsea’s case. The driver was assessed a $230 fine for having open liquor in a vehicle, which he paid earlier this month. But the operator was supposed to pay a fine related to the condition of the bus as well. The company didn’t answer questions from CTV News about whether it had paid.
But surprisingly, neither did three government agencies.
CTV first tried the Ministry of Transportation, whose commercial vehicle inspectors would normally test party buses for safety.
But staffers there said they couldn’t help because, they said, the file was now the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Police Department.
When CTV called the VPD, a spokesperson said that police investigated the case and assessed fines for the driver and the operator under the Motor Vehicle Act – but they aren’t responsible for collecting those fines. That’s up to ICBC.
But when CTV called ICBC, representatives told us they couldn’t say anything to protect the bus operator’s privacy – and to try the Ministry of Transportation.
“Why is everything such a secret?” asked James.
It shouldn’t be, according to Vincent Gogolek of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Information. He said he doubts there’s a good reason to keep simple facts about whether fines have been paid from the public, let alone the victims in these cases.
“This should be readily available, rather than having people go through Freedom of Information and jump through hoops,” he said.
Agencies should think harder before they use privacy as a rationale in this case because there are genuine public interest questions about whether justice is done, seen to be done, or whether public dollars are being collected properly, he said.
Another mystery: somehow the bus passed its government-mandated safety inspection and was on the road with the faulty door. CTV News sent a number of freedom of information requests to figure out how that happened, but the records that were sent in response appeared to have the relevant pages completely blanked out.
James said she’s happy with the premier’s offer to help, but she wonders how many fines are going unpaid because victims are kept in the dark.