Sun's glare a key issue in instructor's cross-examination in Westboro bus crash trial

·4 min read
An Ottawa police officer measures the position of a sunshade on a double-decker bus used to simulate and record conditions of the Westboro bus crash on the day after the crash on Jan. 12, 2019. (Trial Exhibit/Ontario Court of Justice - image credit)
An Ottawa police officer measures the position of a sunshade on a double-decker bus used to simulate and record conditions of the Westboro bus crash on the day after the crash on Jan. 12, 2019. (Trial Exhibit/Ontario Court of Justice - image credit)

The OC Transpo driving instructor involved in a recreation exercise for the investigation of the 2019 Westboro bus crash removed his hand from the wheel to shield his eyes from the sun, according to a video shown in court Thursday.

Bus driver Aissatou Diallo, 44, is on trial and has pleaded not guilty to all dangerous driving charges against her related to the double-decker crash, including three counts of dangerous driving causing death.

Christopher Chenier, a veteran bus driver and instructor, had previously testified that drivers are equipped to handle conditions like the glare of the sun using sun shades on their buses and by adjusting their position.

During his cross-examination Thursday, defence lawyer Fady Mansour presented a video from a recreation exercise where Chenier drove a similar double-decker on Jan. 12, 2019, the day after the crash.

The video appears to show Chenier in the rearview mirror, squinting in the bright sun and lifting his left hand from the steering wheel to shield his eyes.

When asked about this before being shown the video, Chenier said he didn't recall removing his hands from the wheel and said he would "definitely not" instruct trainees to do that.

When Mansour asked Chenier if this showed the sun shade was providing no protection, Chenier said he was told not to adjust it for his height during the recreation, which was directed by Ottawa police.

When pressed, Chenier said he could not remember who told him not to adjust it or where they were when he was told that.

Mansour also played a clip of Chenier's June 6 interview with Ottawa police Det. Alain Boucher where the instructor was asked if the sun had impaired his vision during the test runs.

While Chenier had mentioned conditions were "very sunny" in the interview, his answer to that question was "no."

During his cross-examination, Chenier said his safe operation of the vehicle was never impaired and the bus had only begun to move from its parked position at the station.

Mansour also quoted the OC Transpo interim collision review report which said weather and road conditions were "virtually identical" to the Jan. 11 crash during the Jan. 12 recreation exercise.

"The conditions were similar, if not the same," Chenier said Thursday.

Mansour suggested a video shown in court Wednesday of a recreation on Jan. 17 showed a cloudier sky on that date, which Chenier agreed with.

The Crown argued in its opening statement that the sun did not play a role in the 2019 collision.

Skidding instructions

Mansour also referred to Chenier's observation, noted in the interim collision report, about thick ice in the basin and a solid ice dam that would make it hard for bus to exit that area just off the road.

Chenier agreed with the defence lawyer he would've refused to drive in the gutter in the simulation because it's dangerous.

WATCH | Warning some people may find the following video disturbing:

The defence also submitted an OC Transpo training handout about the hazards of winter driving, bringing specific attention to the guidance on "skidding and jackknifing."

The handout advises drivers that the best way to recover from a skid or jackknife on ice is "almost complete reliance on steering with little or no use of accelerator or brakes."

The Crown has argued Diallo did not meaningfully brake or steer when the bus entered its collision course.

Sound not identified in testing

Chenier was also involved in two exercises with Ottawa police on May 27 and June 6 of 2019 where they tried to replicate what one investigator called "braking, screeching, tire screeching" sound.

Chenier told the court they were not able to replicate it through using the wipers, opening the window to various degrees and travelling at different speeds or trying to operate the proof-of-payment printer while the bus was in motion.

The bus did not have any passengers aboard aside from the investigators during the sound tests, he said.

During re-examination, assistant Crown attorney Louise Tansey presented photos of the recovered sunshade from the double-decker involved in the collision. The sunshade was measure and so was the sunshade of the test bus that Chenier operated.

The judge-alone trial at the Ontario Court of Justice on Elgin Street is expected to resume Tuesday.