'Much, much slower:' Coroner promises change after Humboldt mix-up
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, February 25, 2019 11:11AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 25, 2019 2:13PM EST
REGINA -- Saskatchewan's chief coroner says a public mix-up in identifying two hockey players involved in the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash means, in the future, his office will be more careful in releasing names.
"Things will be much, much slower," Clive Weighill said Monday, as he released his report into the April 2018 crash.
"We will not identify anybody and put anything out until we are 100 per cent positive."
One of the six recommendations in Weighill's report further calls on the Saskatchewan Health Authority to review how dead as well as injured patients are identified in such situations.
The mix-up involved 18-year-old players Xavier LaBelle, originally thought to be killed in the crash, and Parker Tobin, who was thought to be in hospital.
LaBelle's family had voiced uncertainty in identifying a body they were told was his and dental records had been ordered when he woke up in hospital saying he wasn't Tobin.
Weighill said the coroner's office was relying on information provided by hospitals about who the surviving players were and was working through a process of elimination with families to identify the dead.
But the identification process was not fully complete by the time a public memorial was held in Humboldt two days after crash.
"There was a lot of public pressure," Weighill said. "There was media pressure, there was social media pressure.
"I can say probably from now on everybody that would come in is going to be a Jane Doe or a John Doe until we have a positive (identity) on each specific person."
A spokesman from the Saskatchewan Health Authority said the agency accepts the coroner's recommendation.
"We apologize to all those affected and we will endeavour to do our best to ensure this never happens again," said spokesman Doug Dahl.
Sixteen people killed last April when a transport truck barrelled through a stop sign at a rural crossroads north of Tisdale and into the path of the junior hockey team's bus. Thirteen others on the bus were injured.
While truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu has pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and is awaiting sentencing, the coroner's report officially lists the deaths as accidental.
Weighill also recommended his office develop a mass casualty plan. He said one would be in place by March.
Remaining recommendations were aimed at other government agencies.
The report said the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways should look at its policy on signs at the intersection where the crash occurred and Saskatchewan Government Insurance should implement mandatory truck driver training.
"A tragedy this size, it can't just be one thing that went wrong," said Scott Thomas, whose son Evan was killed.
Thomas said the coroner's findings are justification for some of the changes that he and other families have been calling for.
He appreciated the recommendations directed to Transport Canada for mandatory seatbelts on highway buses and improving national safety codes for truck driver training and electronic logging.
In December, the Saskatchewan government announced it will make training mandatory for semi-truck drivers starting in March. Drivers seeking a Class 1 commercial licence will have to undergo at least 121 1/2 hours of training.
But Thomas said there needs to be a national standard.
"To me, this has to be a nationally regulated profession and these guys should be treated as professionals just like airplane pilots are," he said.
Transport Canada announced in June that the department will require all newly built highway buses to have seatbelts by September 2020. Some charter bus companies have said that, while many new vehicles already have seatbelts, there is no way to ensure passengers are wearing them.
"A lot of the injuries were because people were ejected from the bus," said Weighill. "We can't say for sure if that would have been a big substantial difference or not to the injuries, but we feel that it would certainly lead to a safer environment."
Thomas said he would like to see the coroner's report made binding.
A coroner's report into a crash at the same intersection that killed six people in 1997 recommended installing an additional warning device such as rumble strips. The government at the time declined.
"If the government would have acted after the '97 coroner's report, rumble strips would have been there," said Thomas. "I've got to think that would have significantly changed the outcome of that day."