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Muslim headscarf may have been cause of fatal schoolbus crash in Canada

October 23, 2007

Crash detail overlooked

October 22, 2007 Calgary Sun

The school bus accident last Thursday that killed a nine-year-old child and injured others was a sorrowful tragedy.

The amount of media coverage of the accident was appropriate: Children should never predecease their parents.

Calgary's radio stations, newspapers and TV news covered the event exhaustively -- inspecting every detail, and asking good questions about how such accidents might be avoided in the future.

Every detail was examined except one: The woman who was the school bus driver was wearing a Muslim-style head covering that blocked her peripheral vision.

Why was this fact omitted?

We read and heard hundreds of words about other elements of the accident.

We know all about the truck on the side of the road.

We know all about the little bus, and how it "drifted" over.

We know all about the ongoing debate about school bus seatbelts.

We know about every detail except the most important one: The bus driver herself.

I saw two shots of the bus driver -- once, quickly, in a TV newscast, and the other in a newspaper photo. Both showed her wearing a veil.

Not a niqab -- the full, cover-the-face veil some Muslim women wear.

But a smaller hijab -- a scarf that surrounds the face.

In both glimpses, the bus driver's hijab was worn far enough forward that it clearly blocked her peripheral vision.

It looked almost like blinders.

Is that not an extremely relevant fact in an accident where a bus "drifted" off the road, side-swiping a vehicle parked on the side?

Wasn't peripheral vision a key issue?

This was the leading news story of the day. The CBC even flew in its top TV reporter from Vancouver.

Did no one find it odd that a bus driver whose job requires keen eyesight wore a hood-like scarf?

I can't believe that, of the dozen reporters there, none had questions about this.

Who is the woman? What is her name? Why was she wearing a headscarf? Was the scarf a factor?

Reporters are inquisitive people.

They must have asked those questions, at least to themselves.

I think it's obvious why these questions were not asked: because it is politically incorrect to question a religious veil -- or even anything that looks like one -- for fear of being regarded as politically incorrect.

Maybe the woman wasn't Muslim. Maybe it was just a scarf to stay warm.

Why didn't a single reporter even ask?

Of course, it doesn't matter if the woman was Muslim or not, or it if was a religious hijab or just a winter scarf. Or an Eastern European baboushka.

What matters is that a school bus driver was allowed to operate while wearing a hood.

Clearly, that is an unacceptable risk -- and something that should be banned by common sense.

Ten years ago, to say that head scarves on bus drivers should be prohibited would have been uncontroversial.

But to say so today is to be called Islamophobic -- even if the bus driver in question was not a Muslim.

The bus driver has been charged. We'll know what the justice system says caused the crash. But for the dozen reporters there, they'd rather find any other reason than a head scarf -- even a non-religious head scarf worn by a non-Muslim -- than to admit there are simply some parts of modern, secular society where it is inappropriate -- even dangerous -- to allow politically correct multiculturalism to trump common sense.

Schoolgirl dies in Calgary bus crash
Last Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2007 | 1:35 PM MT
CBC News An eight-year-old student has died after a school bus crashed on a busy freeway in Calgary's southwest at the height of the Thursday morning rush period.
The girl was found unconscious and wedged face down between two seats. Rescuers said she suffered major blood loss. A 13-year-old boy who was in critical condition with "full systems injuries" was upgraded to stable, according to an update by the Alberta Children's Hospital Thursday afternoon. Two students who were in serious condition and seven students with minor injuries have been released from hospital.
Police said it appears the short yellow school bus struck a gravel truck parked on the shoulder of busy Crowchild Trail near 17th Avenue Southwest and then continued on to smash into a light standard. Both drivers were unhurt. "The initial collision with the dump truck actually peeled off a part of the side of this school bus," Calgary police Insp. Roger Chaffin told CBC Newsworld. "It caused a considerable amount of damage." The side of the bus was sheared off and the front end crumpled. A witness told CBC News that the female bus driver was "hysterical." A total of 11 children ranging in age from eight to 17 were on the bus, which appeared to be equipped with seatbelts, but it's unclear if they were wearing them. Several people driving by stopped to help, including an off-duty firefighter and a doctor. "The one little girl that was in there, in between the seats, we didn't see her right away," said witness Tom Taylor. "And then I just climbed into the bus and then I saw her and called the doctor and switched spots with him and let him look after her."
Six students were on the way to The Third Academy, a private special education school, and five attend Mountain View Academy, another private school that shares the same building. "We're all a big family in that school so if something bad happens to one, it happens to all of us," said Mountain View vice-principal Colleen Ryan, as she waited at the hospital with parents. "So our thoughts right now are with the children and that's what we need to be focusing on." The speed limit on the stretch of road where the crash happened is about 70 km/h. "It's a fairly good straightaway at that point," said Chaffin. "The weather today is very clear. There's no unusual road conditions." Investigators have determined the gravel truck was parked on the side of the road because of mechanical issues. Police are interviewing the bus driver, who is employed by The Third Academy, and will look at what factors led to the collision. Investigators said she is suffering from "emotional trauma."

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