The family of a boy who died after jumping off the Prince of Wales Bridge in 2020 is now suing the City of Ottawa for $1.5 million, alleging the city should have known the bridge posed a danger to the public and that it failed to stop people from accessing it.
The lawsuit, first reported in the Ottawa Citizen, was filed in Ontario Superior Court April 19 by lawyers Lawrence Greenspon and Tina Hill on behalf of Vimy Grant's parents, Eilis and Justin Grant, and his half-sister and grandparents.
Vimy Grant was 14 years old on July 3, 2020, when he and some friends visited the disused former rail bridge — later renamed the Chief William Commanda Bridge — over the Ottawa River, as they had done several times in the past, according to the statement of claim.
The claim alleges the friends didn't know they weren't supposed to be there because other people were present whenever they visited. The claim also alleges they never saw authorities at the bridge and weren't advised of any risks about jumping into the water.
Coroner's review made bridge recommendations, claim states
The 14-year-old climbed to the top of the bridge above the deck that evening, jumped, hit the water with the front of his body and did not resurface. Vimy Grant's body was found in the river days later; a coroner ruled he had drowned, according to the claim.
After the drowning, a coroner's review "in conjunction with the city and other interested stakeholders" found improvements were necessary to make the bridge safe, according to the statement of claim.
The recommendations included turning the bridge into a safe, usable crossing; adding lights, an alarm system, security cameras, lifesaving systems, more signs and proper barriers; and educating the public and enforcing bylaws on site.
"Despite this extensive review, no real improvements were made by the city to the bridge or the surrounding areas to increase safety," the claim alleges.
Then in June 2021, a 26-year-old man from London, Ont., also died after jumping from the bridge, creating "an additional psychological impact" on Vimy Grant's family, the claim states.
The city should have known the bridge posed dangers, especially for youth, the claim alleges. It failed to prevent people from accessing the bridge and using it in an unsafe manner, failed to repair holes in fencing, failed to surveil and prosecute trespassers, and failed to install security systems and adequate warning signs, the claim alleges.
Days after Vimy Grant's death, Kevin Wylie, general manager of public works and environmental services, issued a statement saying the city "continues to take action to prevent trespassing" at the bridge.
"Structures in place to prevent trespassing and protect public safety include signage, chains and fencing. In addition, city staff do daily patrols of the bridge, conduct regular inspections and ensure any repairs are completed promptly," he wrote at the time.
A statement of defence from the city has not yet been filed in court. David White, the city's solicitor, wrote in a statement Tuesday that as the matter is before the courts, the city will not comment.
None of the allegations has been tested in court.
Family had been negotiating with city, lawyer says
Greenspon, who prepared the claim, said negotiations had been taking place between the family and the city. But the process "wasn't successful," he said, so the statement of claim was filed before the two-year basic limitation period expires in July.
The city knew the bridge was being used by many people to jump into the water, Greenspon said in an interview Wednesday.
"They took some steps to try and prevent that from happening, and what we say is that the steps that they took were inadequate, not sufficient, given that they knew of the danger that was there," he said.
Vimy Grant's family has been devastated, Greenspon added.
"As a parent, we are not put on this earth to bury our children. And the loss of a child to any family is horrific, and you can't measure [it] in any real way other than to say it's a tragedy, and it's something they will carry with them for the rest of their life."
WATCH | Lawyer speaks on lawsuit regarding Prince of Wales Bridge:
Bridge currently being turned into multi-use pathway
In 2021, city councillors voted to change the name of the bridge and commit millions to rehabilitate it into a multi-use pathway.
Work began in the fall of 2021 and is ongoing, according to the city. It's expected to be complete this fall.
Turning the 1.3-kilometre bridge into a multi-use pathway will cost a total of $22.5 million: $12.1 million for the path itself, including beefed-up railings, LED lighting and a few benches; and $10.4 million to restore the piers holding up the bridge.
In an email Tuesday, Ottawa's director of infrastructure services said safety features and considerations including guardrail and platform design, lighting and signage were assessed and incorporated into the design.
"The city will ensure that appropriate measures are taken to guarantee the safety of users once the multi-use path is open," Carina Duclos's statement in French reads.