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What we still don’t know about the fatal Ottawa bus crash

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Collision investigators have finished documenting the scene of Friday’s fatal bus crash at an Ottawa transit station, but it could still be awhile before the public gets firm answers about what happened.

Three people died and 23 people were injured when a double-decker OC Transpo bus collided with the Westboro station at the start of rush hour. 

Here are a just a few of the areas where significant questions remain, more than 36 hours after the deadly collision.

The cause of the crash

It’s unlikely investigators will be making any declarative statements about the cause of the crash for some time.

At a Saturday press conference, Sgt. Cameron Graham with the Ottawa Police Service’s collision investigation unit told reporters investigators were looking at a number of elements — including weather conditions, the bus itself, and “human factors.”

Later in the day, investigators drove a similar double-decker bus down the same stretch of the Transitway, the city’s bus rapid transit network, hoping to get a sense for what conditions were like at the time of the crash.

Both Graham and police Chief Charles Bordeleau, however, have said the investigation will be complex. Transport Canada and Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation are also investigating.

An aerial view of the fatal Jan. 11, 2019, collision involving an OC Transpo bus at Ottawa’s Westboro station. (Guillaume Lafrenière/Radio-Canada)

Who the victims are

Three people have been confirmed dead, but Ottawa police have not released their names or any other information.

In fact, one of the only details to have come out is that some members of the Canadian Armed Forces were among those injured.

Angela Banville, commandant of the Canadian Forces Support Unit, told CBC News Saturday that an unspecified number of “defence team” members were hurt and that they would be “made aware of all the support available to them.”

And while it’s possible the number of fatalities could rise, it won’t likely rise by much.

While the Ottawa Hospital was reporting Friday night they had as many as nine people in critical condition, less than 24 hours later they said only one patient still required critical care.

The Queensway Carleton Hospital also handled a number of patients, but in the end, only one person was admitted — and that person’s condition was serious but stable.

Whether riders will feel safe

For some people, Friday’s crash no doubt brought to mind another Ottawa mass transit tragedy: the 2013 crash between a double-decker bus and a Via Rail train that killed six people.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada found the design of the double-decker provided riders little protection in that crash. 

After Friday’s collision, some people were wondering if both the buses and Westboro station itself — which predates the addition of double-deckers to the city’s fleet — may have contributed to the collision’s severity.

So will that lead OC Transpo riders to hesitate before stepping on board a city bus? Or a light rail train, when Ottawa’s Confederation line eventually opens?

It’s hard to say. While city officials maintain the mass transit network is safe, others are calling for double-decker buses to be taken off the Transitway for the time being.

The emotional toll

Mayor Jim Watson’s declaration Friday night that flags at Ottawa City Hall would be lowered to half-mast was an immediate recognition of the crash’s impact on the city’s collective psyche.

In fact, a number of residents felt compelled to stop by the crash site Saturday morning. Two men even set up a tree as a memorial, noting they wanted to affix the names of the crash victims to its branches. 

The Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region also brought in additional volunteers to help people cope with their anxiety and grief.

“It’s just an awful thing for us as a whole community, as a city, to go through,” said Inge Roosendaal, a regular OC Transpo rider.

As of Monday, people will be able to sign a book of condolences for the crash victims at Ottawa City Hall. The book will be available until Sunday, Jan. 20.

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Students call on University of Ottawa to implement pass/fail grading amid pandemic

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OTTAWA — The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) is calling on the university to introduce optional, one-course-only pass/fail grading for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The students’ union said nearly 5,000 uOttawa students have signed its petition supporting the grading system.

In a letter to the university, the UOSU said it is asking the school to make changes to the grading structure, including allowing one course per semester to be converted to the “pass” or “satisfactory” designation.

The UOSU also made recommendations regarding a reduction of workload and course delivery.

“The adaptation to online learning during the pandemic for students has created unique challenges and disruptions that could not have been anticipated,” wrote Tim Gulliver, the UOSU’s Advocacy Commissioner. 

“The use of flexible compassionate grading options has been introduced in other universities, such as Carleton University which includes a use of Pass/Fail which we feel could be implemented at the University of Ottawa.”

Carleton University approved the use of flexible and compassionate grading for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms in early November.

The UOSU also called for all grades that constitute a fail to appear as “Not Satisfactory” on their transcript, which would not be included in grade point average calculations. 

The union represents more than 38,000 undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa.

In a response to CTV News, the University of Ottawa said it is aware of the petition.

“Last spring a decision was made by the (University) Senate to allow the Satisfactory/Non Satisfactory mark to be used, given the unique circumstances of the pandemic, which hit us close to the end of the Winter 2020 semester. The University is aware of the petition and is looking into the matter.”

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OPP warn of phone scams in Ottawa Valley

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Upper Ottawa Valley OPP warn residents of a phone scam that’s been making its way through the region recently. 

Police say a scammer pretends to be from a local business and tells the person their credit card didn’t work on a recent purchase before asking the person on the phone to confirm their credit card number. 

The victim may not have even used the card at the store, but police said the scammer creates a sense of urgency. 

Police remind residents to verify the legitimacy of any caller before providing any personal information over the phone. 

Similar scams have been reported recently in the region, according to police, with scammers posing as police officers, Revenue Canada or other government agencies demanding payment for a variety of reasons. A Social Insurance Number scam has also been reported recently, where a victim is asked for their SIN number under threat of being arrested. 
 
If a scam artist contacts you or if you have been defrauded, you’re asked to contact police or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or visit their website at www.antifraudcentre.ca.

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The human history of Ottawa Valley is thousands of years old. Archeologists may have found a piece of it on Parliament Hill

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OTTAWA—Archeologists working on Parliament Hill have discovered a relic of Indigenous life that one Algonquin leader sees as a symbol of his people’s long history in what is now the heart of Canadian political power.

The jagged stone point was unearthed last year on the east side of Centre Block, but its discovery was not publicized as officials worked with Algonquin communities to authenticate the object, the Star has learned.

Stephen Jarrett, the lead archeologist for the ongoing renovation of Parliament’s Centre Block, said this week that while such an object is “not an uncommon find,” the stone point joins just a small handful of Indigenous artifacts ever discovered on Parliament Hill.

“It’s about the size of my palm, and it could be used as a knife or a projectile,” Jarrett said this week in response to inquiries from the Star.

He said the point is made of chert, a type of sedimentary stone most often used for implements of this type. And while the point was unearthed in what Jarrett calls “disturbed soil” — earth that has been dug up and moved, most likely during construction of Parliament — the soil it was in “is natural to the site.”

That means “it came from a source nearby, but finding exactly where it came from is impossible,” Jarrett said.

For Douglas Odjick, a band council member responsible for education and culture with the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, this artifact of “an original world” is a testament to the longevity of his Algonquin nation in an area they still claim as unceded and unsurrendered territory. Based on the assessment of Ian Badgley, the top archeologist with the National Capital Commission, Odjick said the stone point is likely 4,000 years old and dates to a time when the confluence of the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau Rivers — along with all their tributaries that stretch out into the surrounding area — served as a great hub of regional trade activity.

“It symbolizes who we are and how long we’ve been here,” Odjick said, comparing the area to an ancient version of a busy hub like New York’s busy Grand Central Station.

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