Parents of boy killed by school bus, rights group call for inquiry on pedestrian deaths

The group Piétons Québec and the parents of Jules Boutin, the teenager who was killed by a school bus two years ago in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, in the Laurentians, want a public inquiry into pedestrian deaths.

The request for a public inquiry has been sent to Quebec's chief coroner.

Piétons Québec made the announcement the day after the release of coroner Julie Blondin's report on the death of Boutin, a 13-year-old teenager who was struck by a school bus as he left school while crossing an intersection near his school using the pedestrian crossing.

In her report, Blondin concluded that she cannot establish precisely where Jules Boutin was hit, nor what actually happened, despite the police investigation and the reconstruction of the accident scene.

Her report raised the possibility, at most, that the bus driver was distracted. The driver told police that she did not see Boutin that day.

The coroner nevertheless ruled that his death was preventable and recommended the addition of specialized equipment for school buses, such as 360-degree cameras and automatic emergency braking systems, to "compensate for any human failures."

"This is not enough," said Piétons Québec director Sandrine Cabana-Degani. "As a society, we have unfortunately accepted that pedestrian deaths on the roads are part of the rules of the game when it is unacceptable."

Only a thematic public inquiry can shed light on what needs to be done to prevent such tragedies from happening again, she said.

Jules Boutin's parents support this request.

"In this story, it is the adults and the society that did not protect my son," said father Pierre Boutin.

"He respected the Highway Safety Code. He should have been able to cross the road with a certain amount of protection, both in terms of the layout and the behaviour of drivers. I thought he had that right. I realize that nothing protected him."

His mother, Catherine Ricard, refuses to let his death be treated as a "news item."

"The death of dozens of pedestrians each year is not a news item," she said. "It is the result of decisions we make, or don't make, collectively."

Finally, the parents are calling on the decision-makers involved to follow the coroner's recommendations to the letter and provide answers to the questions she raised in her report.

"Such a public inquiry would be a first in Quebec," said Cabana-Degani, adding that she's waiting to hear from the chief coroner, who has the authority to make the decision.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 10, 2021. 

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