Photo posted to Twitter by @PatMorrell_CBC.
A police spokesperson quoted in a controversial Toronto Star article last week says he had no intention of blaming pedestrians for a car crash that killed one man and injured nine others.
The accident occurred on Wednesday afternoon when a driver travelling westbound on Lake Shore Blvd. turned left across the path of another vehicle at Bay. The vehicles collided and careened into a group of six people standing at a stop light, killing a 73-year-old man. The four occupants of the cars were also hurt.
Although the crash appears to have been entirely the result of a motorist's bad decision (a New Jersey man was charged with careless driving), the next day the Star published a story that, according to some readers, implied the pedestrians had done something wrong.
The article was posted online under the headline "Toronto car crash at Bay and Lake Shore raises questions about road safety" and, while it noted that a driver was at fault, the bulk of the piece focused on police concerns about how pedestrians often misunderstand the newer countdown crossing signals. (A print version of the same story, published on Friday, featured the collision less prominently.)
"What we're finding down there is people [that] aren't paying attention to the countdown timers," the Star quoted Const. Hugh Smith of traffic services as saying.
"People are coming out in the blind areas and the drivers think there is no pedestrian there, [so] they're starting manoeuvres."
The article incensed some readers, who felt the police were pointing the finger at the innocent victims of the crash, who were not even crossing the road when they were struck.
"Disgusted by the endless blaming of pedestrians by @TorontoPolice," wrote Laurence Lui on Twitter, one of several angry responses. A local man launched an online petition asking the cops to reconsider their messaging.
"It basically implied that the pedestrians who were injured... were doing something wrong when they were hit," said Dylan Reid, co-founder of pedestrian advocacy group Walk Toronto. "Their injury had absolutely nothing to do with their behaviour."
Reid believes that the police have a track record of putting the onus for road safety on pedestrians instead of careless drivers, and the article appeared to confirm that view.
"It's been a running problem for a long time," he says.
But in an interview with NOW, Const. Smith says his comments were "manipulated" by the Star. He claims he told the paper's reporter he did not want to speak about the Lake Shore collision because another officer had already been interviewed about it by the Star, but he agreed to talk about pedestrian safety for a separate article instead.
"I said, this has nothing to do with Bay-Lake Shore," says Smith. "I said, I can talk to you about pedestrian signals on a whole, on a different subject."
The constable, who sits on the Ontario coroner's pedestrian death committee and says he attends 20 fatal accidents a year, is upset by his portrayal in the Star piece. He stresses that pedestrian behaviour was "not a factor in that collision whatsoever" and that the victims "were standing there innocently waiting for the light to change."
"We've lost a life, we had a couple of people seriously injured, and [the Star reporter has] got Toronto police looking like we're... saying that the pedestrians are the ones putting themselves at risk," he says. "It just doesn't make sense to me."
The other police spokesperson quoted by the Star, Const. Tony Vella, also tells NOW that he didn'tt intend to fault the injured pedestrians. He says he was simply answering the reporter's questions, and he was not asked about driver behaviour.
The article's author, Andrew Livingstone, stands by his story. He calls Smith's description of their interview "very surprising."
Livingstone says his editors wanted him to write about pedestrian safety as a follow-up to the paper's original report on the crash. When he asked Smith about the pedestrian angle, he says the constable freely volunteered his opinion that some people take for granted that they can cross once the "don't walk" countdown has begun, even though doing so is against the rules.
Livingstone recalls that he was surprised by the answer and believed "it was important for me just to tell readers what traffic services might think about the way pedestrians act in the crosswalks in Toronto."
Although both the print and online versions of the article mentioned the Lake Shore crash, Livingstone contends that Smith was not quoted in direct relation to incident, as per the officer's wishes. He adds that nothing in the Star article asserts the pedestrians were responsible for the fatal collision.
"We're not blaming pedestrians," says Livingstone, who received hate mail regarding the piece.
"I could say I probably could have been a bit more clear but I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with the story as it is."