Red Hill Valley Parkway crash victims, families excluded from public inquiry

The justice leading the Red Hill Valley Parkway Inquiry (RHVPI) has excluded crash victims and the families of crash victims in the process.

In a decision on Wednesday, commissioner Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel granted “full participation rights” to the city of Hamilton; the province; Dufferin Construction, which built the parkway; and Golder Associates, which commissioned the Tradewind friction study, the focal point of the inquiry.

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Five other groups and individuals seeking to take part in the process – including a former city accountant; crash victim Jodi Gawrylash; and Belinda Marazzato, the mother of Olivia Smosarski, who died in a collision on the parkway – were declined participation.

Two law firms, Grosso Hooper and Scarfone Hawkins who represent a group involved in a $250M class-action lawsuit against the City of Hamilton filed on behalf of drivers who have crashed on the parkway since its opening in 2007, were also denied.

However, with concerns over not having any participants “directly or indirectly” affected by accidents and a lack of individuals speaking for affected citizens, Wilton-Siegel called for his legal team to reach out to both for information that might help complete the inquiry’s mandate.

“I have directed commission counsel to ensure that all relevant matters are well-canvassed,” Wilton-Siegel said in his written decision. “Second, I encourage the applicants who are not granted the right to participate, to communicate with commission counsel if they feel they have information that may be of assistance to the inquiry in fulfilling it’s mandate.”

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With that, Wilton-Siegel is welcoming an application for a “coalition of concerned citizens” that could include participants in the class action.

Lawyer Rob Hooper, who represents some of the more than 200 people involved in the class-action lawsuit, told Global News the clients he’s talked to are generally disappointed with the justice’s decision.

“Collectively, they have information from an expert point of view and statistics as a group that is not available otherwise,” Hooper argued. “It is our view the group hit on the 5 mandates of the inquiry.”

But Wilton-Siegel didn’t close the door completely in light of statements Hooper made in an application for his clients in January, comparing the RHVP inquiry with elements Walkerton water contamination Inquiry in the early 2000s.

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In that inquiry, a group involved in a proposed class action also applied to be a part of a “coalition of concerned citizens” and was granted “limited rights” to participate in an impact phase of the probe.

In Wednesday’s decision, Wilton-Siegel declined participation of the law firms to represent a “broad-based” coalition of concerned citizens, but cleared the way for the firms’ clients to participate with separate applications into the “broad-based” coalitions sharing personal experiences connected to crashes on the parkway.

“I accept that some or all of the firms’ clients may have an interest in understanding whether road surface conditions contributed to their respective accidents,” Wilton-Siegel said.

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“The inquiry will provide a forum to receive such information and is, in any event, open to receiving any information via commission counsel.”

Meanwhile, Hooper calls the potential addition of his class action clients in a concerned citizens group a sort of “olive branch” extended for a group of concerned citizens to come forward.

“We have over 200 concerned citizens already and will likely present a forum for more people (not just injured people) to come forward to join the group and decide if a new application is warranted. I think that will be within the next 30 days.”

The RHVP inquiry, announced in April of 2019, has been divided into two stages.

First, the inquiry is to determine the facts relating to 24 questions posed by city council, which fall into five general categories:

  • Why the 2013 report on the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) and the Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway were not revealed to city council or the public
  • Why testing from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) on the RHVP in 2007 was not disclosed to city council or the public
  • Whether the city or MTO conducted any other friction tests or general road safety reviews of the RHVP
  • What the standards for friction testing in Ontario are
  • Other than friction, what other factors contribute to motor vehicle accidents on the RHVP

The second stage will be road safety recommendations from the inquiry in the interest of the public and government, according to Wilton-Siegel.

Wilton-Siegel has not set a specific timeline for when the inquiry will be completed. Formal public hearings are not expected until this fall.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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