A judge has found the driver involved in the 2019 fatal Westboro bus crash not guilty of all counts of dangerous driving.
Ontario Court Justice Matthew Webber read the verdict Wednesday morning in an Ottawa courtroom.
OC Transpo bus operator Aissatou Diallo, 44, had pleaded not guilty to three counts of dangerous driving causing death and 35 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
Diallo was behind the wheel of the double-decker bus that crashed into the Westboro Station awning on Jan. 11, 2019. The crash killed three people and injured dozens more.
In reading his decision for more than two hours Wednesday morning, Webber said the evidence available in the trial was not sufficient to prove Diallo was negligent in driving that day and therefore did not meet the threshold of criminal responsibility for either the deaths or injuries in the incident.
He noted that while the loss of life was significant, the degree of casualties is not itself a contributing factor in assessing dangerous driving charges.
Webber concluded that Diallo’s driving that day, though the result may have been catastrophic, did not represent a “marked departure” from what a “reasonable, prudent” driver would have done in her stead.
“This is a tragic, tragic case indeed. And the degree… of loss suffered by so many has not eluded me,” Webber said.”
“However, to convict Diallo of this serious criminal offence, based on proven conduct before me, would be to cast the net far too wide.”
The trial, which began in March of this year, lasted 10 weeks.
Among the key arguments from defence attorneys Solomon Friedman and Fady Mansour were the glaring light in Diallo’s eyes from the setting sun at the time of the crash and inconsistent road markers — remnants from construction in the area months beforehand — that, if followed, would have guided the bus towards the snow-covered shoulder and closer to the station itself.
“The influence and effect both the sun and the road markers likely had on the events that unfolded… cannot be ignored,” Webber said.
The Crown, meanwhile, alleged that Diallo had failed to apply the brakes or steer back towards the transitway when the bus began to drift off the paved road.
The judge concluded, however, that while there was not conclusive evidence that she had taken corrective action, he couldn’t say she didn’t, and it was not clear whether she even had the capacity to steer away based on the consecutive collisions with the snow bank and rock wall of the transitway.
“She may well have done nothing. But the realities of human perception and reaction intervals may have rendered her incapable of doing so,” Webber said.
In a statement, Friedman and Mansour said the verdict confirms Diallo is “an innocent woman put in an awful position by circumstances far beyond her control.”
They added that while they and their client acknowledge the tragedy continues to reverberate, the verdict confirms the crash was “an accident, not a criminal act.”
The three people killed in the crash — 56-year-old Bruce Thomlinson, 57-year-old Judy Booth and 65-year-old Anja Van Beek — were all public servants.
Mayor Jim Watson, speaking to media shortly after the verdict was read Wednesday, said his thoughts are with the victims’ loved ones. He accepted the court’s decision, though he acknowledged some had hoped a criminal conviction could provide closure to those still in grief.
“I know that’s, undoubtedly, going to be difficult for some members of the community to hear. But, in fairness, that is the judicial process and we have to support that. We may not like the decision but we have to support it,” he said.
In January 2020, the City of Ottawa said it accepts civil responsibility for the bus crash and agreed to compensate the families of victims.
Ottawa city solicitor David White said in a statement that 29 lawsuits have been brought against the municipality since the crash, and that more than $5 million in settlements have been paid.
“Two of the three fatality-related claims have been settled and the city and its insurers continue to actively work on resolving the remaining claims,” White said.
“The city has acknowledged its responsibility for the collision and, through its insurers, has made advance payments of partial claims for plaintiffs who have required financial assistance and are not yet recovered sufficiently to settle their full claims.”
— With files from the Canadian Press