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Tour bus company charged with health and safety violations in fatal Jasper icefields rollover

Alta bus rollover lawsuit 20200825 business

The company operating a tour bus that crashed in the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in 2020 has been charged under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. 

Brewster Inc. is charged with eight counts under the act, including failing to control hazards and failing to ensure equipment was in safe operating condition.

The charges, announced Friday afternoon by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), include failing to ensure workers and passengers were safe on the vehicle and in the vicinity of the worksite.

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Two of the charges allege Brewster did not maintain seat belts on the vehicle for its on-board employee, nor did it mandate their use.

Four of the charges — one each for the employee and three passengers — allege the company did not control the “hazard of the grade of the slope of the lateral moraine.”

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The final two charges against the company cite failure to ensure equipment would safety perform its intended function and failure to ensure equipment was free from obvious defects.

Three people were killed and 14 others had life-threatening injuries on July 18, 2020, when one of Brewster’s all-terrain Ice Explorers — a glacier sightseeing vehicle — rolled off a road on the Columbia Icefield, about 100 kilometres southeast of Jasper, Alta.

The vehicle, carrying 27 people, rolled about 50 metres down a moraine embankment before coming to rest on its roof. A total of 24 people were injured. The bus driver sustained serious injuries.

Tanya Otis, director of media and communications with Brewster, issued a statement Friday. 

“We continue to support a transparent and multi-agency investigation into this tragic accident,” she said in an email. “Due to active legal proceedings, we are unable to comment on the specifics of the case.”

The case is scheduled for June 23 in Jasper provincial court. 

Lawsuits pending

At least two civil cases are seeking compensation for survivors and the families of the victims have been launched in the crash.

Basil Bansal, a partner of Diamond and Diamond Lawyers representing seven plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit against the company, said charges under the health and safety act are a positive step for their clients. 

“Their life has been changed fairly dramatically and they may not be the same,” Bansal said in an interview Friday. “But at least these new charges do bring the law in the right direction as far as justice is concerned.”

Six of their clients were injured in crash and one died, whose claim is pursued as litigation under his estate representative.

Bansal said the OHS violations highlight the alleged failures of the company, including failing to provide seatbelts on the bus. 

“These are things that should have already been in place,” he said. “Hopefully these additional charges as well as the civil lawsuit bring about changes.” 

The statement of claim in the civil lawsuit says the seven plaintiffs are seeking a combined $3.5 million in punitive and exemplary damages.

Bansal said there is no court date for the civil lawsuit. Another firm is handling a class-action lawsuit for other plaintiffs. 

RCMP report under review

The buses regularly take tourists up a rough, rocky road onto the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park.

Crown prosecutors continue to review an RCMP investigation into the crash to determine if criminal charges are warranted in the case.

What caused the rollover of the big-wheeled, off-road tourist bus to lose control remains under investigation. 

The RCMP handed its report into the fatal rollover to the Alberta Crown prosecutor’s office last month. Prosecutors will determine if the evidence warrants any criminal charges. 

The RCMP report has not been made public. It was initially promised last spring, then pushed to the fall.

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