UVic’s final report on Bamfield recommendations

- Tara Sharpe

An aerial view of the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC). Photo credit: Oliver Evans

The University of Victoria will never forget September 13, 2019 and we deeply honour the memories of Emma Machado of Winnipeg and John Geerdes of Iowa City, two UVic students who passed away on the way to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC) that night.

September 2019 was meant to be the start of an exciting new term. Instead, the students who survived the tragic bus accident, their parents and the families of John and Emma experienced an extraordinarily harrowing time.

University takes to heart the lessons learned

Today, my heartfelt thoughts are with Emma and John’s families and all of the students and their loved ones who were affected by this tragedy. Our community will never forget what happened September 13, 2019. As a father, I know that nothing we say can make up for the loss of John or Emma, or the effect this has had on the lives of everyone involved. As president, the safety of all students at UVic is my top priority and I promise that we will continue to take to heart what we have learned through this process.

— UVic President and Vice-Chancellor Kevin Hall

UVic recognizes the accident’s aftermath for those closely involved will last well beyond these past 22 months and that, each time it is raised, it can weigh heavily on them.

To this day, we remain profoundly sorry for the immeasurable grief, hardships and ongoing challenges caused by this tragic accident and all aspects associated with it.

Eagle Bay near the BMSC, which is situated on the traditional territory of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations.
Eagle Bay near the BMSC, which is situated on the traditional territory of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. Image: courtesy of the BMSC.

The university acknowledges and respects the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, upon whose traditional territories the BMSC stands and whose members came to the assistance of our students in time of such great need.

Fulfillment of independent review’s recommendations

Today, UVic is announcing the fulfillment of all the recommendations—except for those involving a visit to the BMSC, which has been closed to student field trips during the pandemic—in independent consultant Ross Cloutier’s report on conducting field trips to the BMSC, as well as other important improvements which go beyond his recommendations.

In turn, the university has prepared a final report, presented June 28 to UVic’s Board of Governors.

It was so incredibly important for us as an institution to look back at what occurred and reflect on how we can better support our students and their loved ones during a crisis. We care deeply for those entrusted to our care but the affection and concern we felt at the time were not obvious to those who most needed to know it and we have taken this feedback to heart. It will change the way we respond in the future.

— Acting Vice-President of Finance and Operations Kristi Simpson, chair of UVic’s Bamfield Recommendations Implementation Committee

UVic promised to those closely involved and our community that we would learn from this devastating accident and we are grateful to all who assisted in this essential work.

The university also welcomes the opportunity to share what we have learned with other institutions.

West coast learning experiences

Recommendations within the Cloutier report and lessons learned have been used to make improvements broadly across UVic field programs so that our students can look forward to learning outside the classroom, knowing that their safety is our top priority.

Experiential learning opportunities, such as the unparalleled coastal experiences of Bamfield, are key to our university’s academic mission and to a well-rounded educational experience for our students. We’re hopeful that our learnings from this tragedy, and the work that has gone into responding to the recommendations, will have meaningful and lasting positive consequences for our students who’ll continue to take advantage of these opportunities—at Bamfield and beyond.

— Acting Associate Vice-President Academic Planning Robin Hicks, acting dean of UVic’s Faculty of Science at the time of the accident

All of Cloutier’s recommendations for bus travel by road to Bamfield, plus additional measures including overarching processes and risk assessment tools, are now fully in place.

Student safety and support services

With the ongoing refinement to travel programs, the university is also poised and ready to train a new generation of leaders in safe practice for excursions and non-campus activities. And the lessons learned from the tragic accident and review have also been applied more widely by improving plans, procedures and training for a better response in the event of any future emergencies occurring off campus.

We know that the changes UVic has made as a result of Cloutier’s recommendations can never undo the pain and trauma experienced as a result of the accident.

We also recognize that this work transcends one faculty or department.

Therefore, the events of 2019 have been the foundation for an improved student support model. (See UVic’s final report and its tables for detailed information including about the university’s new student-focused incident response team; a new role of special advisor for academic crisis management; new supports for navigating the academic concession process; and many other measures in place.)

As soon as possible, UVic will also begin planning an opportunity for students on the September 2019 trip to visit Bamfield. Many have expressed a desire to do so. In consultation with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations and the BMSC, a dedicated team will implement a student-centred approach that takes into account the wishes of the students themselves.

Road improvements

Last fall, the provincial government announced funding to improve the Bamfield Main Road in partnership with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. Upgrades to the 76-kilometre stretch of unpaved logging road are expected to start this summer and are scheduled for completion in 2023.

It’s important to recognize the hard work and actions of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, the families, students, researchers and others who called on the BC government to invest in improvements to the road.

An aerial view of the BMSC.
An aerial view of the BMSC. Photo: Colin Bates

The BMSC was founded on the vision of providing student field trip experiences where the ocean is the classroom. In the difficult months of reflection that followed the accident, the BMSC worked closely with all communities and partners to ensure improved road safety for everyone.

Bamfield Recommendations Implementation Committee

The recommendations implementation committee included representatives from UVic’s Faculty of Science, academic planning, student affairs, campus security, risk management and university communications, as well as from the BMSC.

UVic indicated in June 2020 that we aimed to implement the Bamfield recommendations within 12 months.

We’re heartened by contributions to the Cloutier report provided by students and their families, as well as by faculty and staff, that have gone into achieving this goal.

More info

The “Final Report on Bamfield Recommendations” is the concluding update to the UVic board on implementation of findings from the external report.

The RCMP has been leading the accident investigation with assistance from Transport Canada. The Cloutier report for UVic is separate from the RCMP investigation.

Student awards have been set up in memory of Emma and John, and a memorial bench is now in place in the heart of UVic’s Finnerty Gardens.


In this story

Keywords: bamfield, biology, administrative

People: Kevin Hall, Kristi Simpson, Robin Hicks

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