Drowning again raises old, hard questions about Prince of Wales Bridge

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OTTAWA – The lawyer for an Ottawa family whose teenage son drowned after jumping from the Prince of Wales Bridge in this city last summer says he can’t understand how city officials can allow the same kind of tragedy to happen again – less then a year later.

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A 26-year-old man from London died on Sunday afternoon after jumping off the bridge into the Ottawa River. His body was recovered late Sunday by police divers.

Ottawa’s Vimy Grant, 14, died last year in a strikingly similar incident. Attorney Lawrence Greenspon called the city’s inability to take necessary steps to secure the bridge from intruders “shocking.”

“You have to wonder how many young people have to die before the city of Ottawa takes the necessary steps to prevent this from happening again,” said Greenspon, who acts for Vimy’s parents Eilis and Justin Grant.

“You would think that after one tragedy, they would have taken the necessary steps to prevent it from happening again. They clearly don’t have that.”

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Vimy Grant
Vimy Grant

Vimy Grant died on the evening of July 3, 2020 after jumping into the river from the top of the decommissioned railway bridge. He had climbed the bridge with a group of friends through holes in a fence that Ottawa City Hall had erected to prevent people from accessing the track.

His body was found three days later; the coroner concluded that he had drowned.

Greenspon said he spoke to the Grant family on Monday.

“They find, unsurprisingly, that Vimy Grant died in vain,” he said. “They are distraught and praying for the family of this young London man.”

The family has sued Ottawa City Hall for failing to adequately block access to the bridge. Greenspon said Vimy’s family wants the bridge made completely inaccessible or torn down so that no one else has to suffer the pain they endured.

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The City of Ottawa purchased the 141-year-old bridge and rail corridors in 2005 for $11 million based on the belief that they could be used to connect light rail systems in Ottawa and Gatineau. Mayor Jim Watson has since declared that plan unworkable , and has turned its attention to converting the Prince of Wales into a multi-purpose pedestrian and cycle bridge.

A press conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday with Watson, the mayor of Gatineau, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, and several federal ministers, including Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna. They were expected to announce federal funding for the bridge’s revitalization.

That press conference was canceled Monday morning after news of the latest tragedy.

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Troy Charter, director of transit operations for the city of Ottawa, said city officials are awaiting details from the Ottawa police investigation into the latest fatal incident. “Our hearts are with all who mourn,” he said.

The Prince Of Wales Bridge In Ottawa
The Prince of Wales Bridge in Ottawa

He said the city is continuing to take action to prevent violations at the Prince of Wales Bridge, and city personnel are patrolling the bridge daily. “Staff conduct regular inspections and make sure any repairs are made promptly,” said Charter.

Signage, chains and fences have been put in place, he said, and metal plates were installed last year at the southern entrance and along Lemieux Island to deter intruders. Discussions are also underway, he said, on ways to improve the bridge’s safety.

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In December, the Ottawa City Council approved $54 0,000 for an environmental assessment of the bridge project and preliminary design work. Earlier estimates put the cost of repurposing the bridge at about $10 million.

Two weeks ago, a friend of Vimy’s parents, Duane Smith, posted a photo to Facebook showing the north side of the bridge wide open to intruders. “Anyone can access the bridge from the Quebec side,” he said in an interview on Monday. “It’s a gate, a gate, that’s wide open.”

Smith said Ottawa City Hall has done a lot of work on Lemieux Island in an effort to make the bridge inaccessible, but holes remain in the fence.

-Andrew Duffy, Citizen of Ottawa

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