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Chelsea’s Story

Told by her mother, Shelly

Chelsea was a bright young 23-year-old woman who was just starting her life. She loved to joke and smile—her smile could light up a room in total darkness.

Chelsea was a hard worker and worked two jobs for many years. She finished school to become a Teacher’s Aide and was hired full-time in the Surrey School District and loved her job.

As the oldest of two kids, she was a bright light and played a huge role in our family, with a dad, a mom, and a brother who loved her very much. We are forever changed.

On January 9, 2016, we heard a knock on our front door; it was the police. They looked at us and said that Chelsea passed away! I called them liars because I knew my girl and that she was doing something safely and responsibly.

On that night, Chelsea had made plans to go on a party bus with some friends for a birthday celebration, and they all knew that they didn’t want to drink and drive.

Everyone met at a friend’s house in Langley and boarded the bus to make it to the destination in Vancouver. As the bus was leaving Langley, two guys were able to open the bus door while the bus was in motion, which shouldn’t happen and indicated to the driver that the door was faulty. Despite the faulty door, the bus driver continued onward to Vancouver, with no concern or regard for this issue!

As they approached their destination, the passengers stood up, and the driver made a wide left turn, Chelsea lost her footing and went down the stairs, where she was fed through the malfunctioning door; right down into the rear tires of the bus where she was run over and died upon impact.

After a 7-month investigation, it was found that not only was a wrong part installed in the door, but that it was also put into the door incorrectly so that it couldn’t function properly; in addition, safety latches were missing from the door. The investigation outlined that this bus had been taken off the road numerous times because of the door for that very reason. A mechanic’s notes from 2013 reveal that this door had a long history of malfunction and no adequate repairs based on mechanic recommendations.

The reason why it was on the road that night after being off previously was because a CVSE licensed commercial vehicle inspection facility, passed the bus as per annual inspection with a decal. This is despite the previous documentation indicating the door failing the test three times before—with no proof of repair. In fact, it was further reported post-mortem that the door system was misaligned from all the malfunctioning so that the locking mechanism did not engage properly.

The Vancouver Police Department laid no charges! How do you charge the government?! They said it was safe to go back on the road! No charges for the driver, or the party bus company who knew beforehand as well as during the drive that the door was malfunctioning!

We still to this day have been refused the information of which CVSE licensed inspection facility passed this non-road worthy vehicle that had previously failed inspection multiple times. Was this inspection facility that incompetent to overlook this previously documented issue, or were they simply paid to look the other way, rather than ensuring the proper repairs were conducted?

We still have so many questions that will never be answered, because the minute ICBC talked to us, they said, well you won’t be able to sue! They knew that since Chelsea wasn’t a breadwinner with dependents, the BC Family Compensation Act prevented us from civilly suing any of them.

Many lawyers told us we had the case to win but due to this law that’s seen no meaningful updates since 1846, we could do nothing.

Chelsea wasn’t married and had no kids. In the province of BC, that meant her life was worth nothing!

We couldn’t believe the criminal system let us down, and we couldn’t believe we couldn’t civilly sue so we could hold those people accountable for the death of our child!

We joined the other families behind the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society’s calls for modernizing the laws and came to learn much more about the background and grave situation in this province. Namely, all other provinces including the Yukon have already modernized these laws, in many cases long ago.

We also learned that back in 2011 it was ICBC that had convinced the provincial government to not move forward on a private members bill to modernize the legislation that was proposed by MLA Ralph Sultan. This would have been legislation that could have provided the necessary protections to ensure deterrence and prevent the tragic accident that lead to the loss of life of my daughter, and sadly as we’ve come to learn, many others.

Imagine that, the very crown corporation insurer that told us our daughter’s life was worth nothing, were the ones partially responsible for ensuring that it continued to be worthless under this antiquated law in the first place!

Justice or accountability has not been served in the death of our daughter.

Nothing is going to change if we don’t start holding the wrongdoers accountable.

We are forever a broken family.

-Shelly James, proud mother of a daughter gone way too soon due to wrongful death.

Media Coverage

Global News: Coroner’s report on party bus death calls for vehicle inspection changes

CBC News: Faulty party bus door passed inspection twice before tragic death, coroner finds

Vancouver Sun: No criminal charges in death of woman who fell out of Vancouver party bus

CTV News: Coroner’s report on party bus death calls for vehicle inspection changes

National Post: B.C. coroner recommends safety improvements after review of party bus death

Huffington Post: No charges after woman’s deadly fall from Vancouver party bus

NEWS 1130: Better tracking of commercial vehicles needed, B.C. coroner says, four years after woman’s party bus death

Langley Advance Times: No charges in party bus accident that killed a Langley woman

North Delta Reporter: Party bus door that led to Langley woman’s death had been faulty for years: coroner

Aldergrove Star: UPDATED: B.C. mom calls for change after coroner blames faulty door in daughter’s party bus death

CKPG Today: A local family demands change after the death of their daughter

CKPG Today: A Families fight part 2: “It’s too late for our daughter, we are fighting for other families now”

CTV News: Driver pays $230 fine nearly 2 years after party bus death


About the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society

‘In Their Name’ is the campaign of ‘The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society’ – a BC registered non-profit organization comprised of volunteer families who have lost a loved one to wrongful death in BC and were denied access to justice. In response to the biggest human rights issue facing the province today, our goal is to modernize British Columbia’s antiquated wrongful death legislation, which predates confederation (1846). Under current legislation, the value of a human life is measured only by the deceased’s future lost income, so long as they had dependents.

As a result of the province’s antiquated law, access to justice has been denied to the families of the wrongfully killed who do not meet this discriminatory criteria. This has affected especially vulnerable groups, namely children, seniors, the disabled, and anyone without dependents when they are killed by the negligent or intentional acts of another.

BC is presently the last of all the provinces, yet to have undertaken this critical legislative modernization to allow for dignity, value, and protections for all its citizens under the law.

When it’s ‘free’ to kill in BC, wrongdoers are not held accountable. This lack of general deterrence holds the province back in terms of incentivizing innovation of safety measures and protocols to prevent wrongful deaths in the first place.

Here’s How You Can Get Involved…

The Premier of British Columbia, David Eby, is responsible for the modernization of BC’s wrongful death laws. Our Society provided David Eby with the drafted ‘Wrongful Death Accountability Act’ when he was acting as the Attorney General for British Columbia for 6 years between 2017-2022. The new Attorney General, Niki Sharma, also shares responsibility as she is the Minister responsible for the ‘Family Compensation Act’ – the current guiding piece of legislation that the civil courts must follow in cases of wrongful death. Minister Sharma receives feedback from the regional ‘Members of the Legislative Assembly’ (MLAs) and follows orders from the Premier, David Eby, who is ultimately responsible for modernization.

Reform is presently at a standstill, as the BC NDP government does not presently view access to justice for the surviving family members of the wrongfully killed as a priority in this province. This is despite the fact that the families behind our Society have been fighting for modernization for over two decades. And despite the fact that all other provinces, including the Yukon, have already modernized in most cases long ago.

The only way to move this forward is by creating massive public awareness and outcry for legislative modernization. Only under the scrutiny of the public and the media will our politicians be forced to take this necessary, and long overdue action.

How many more people will need to die from the same preventable wrongful actions before our politicians will do their job?

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Petition Your MLA Now

Unlike other Canadian provinces, BC has not made any significant amendments to its wrongful death legislation—ever. The current BC Family Compensation Act only values the lives of income-earners. This neglect must stop. Petitioning your local MLA, the Attorney General, and Premier with our automated tool can make a lasting difference to the lives of British Columbians for generations to come.

Dear Local MLA, Attorney General Niki Sharma, Premier David Eby, Minister of Health Adrian Dix, Minister of Public Safety & Solicitor General Mike Farnworth,

I am writing to you about the preventable death of 23-year-old Chelsea James and British Columbia’s woefully outdated wrongful death laws; which are still based on colonial era legislation from 1846.

BC’s current Family Compensation Act only takes into account the direct financial losses resulting from the wrongful death of a loved one. As a result, only the families of deceased breadwinners see the inside of a courtroom in cases of wrongful death.

Children, seniors, people with disabilities, or anyone who does not meet the discriminatory criteria of having both an income and dependents are classes of people whose lives are not valued or respected when they are killed in BC.

This is a human rights issue.

Investigations into the wrongful death of these classes of citizens most often do not occur because there is no ‘loss of earnings’ to cover civil trial costs.

Accordingly, families have been denied the ability to right the wrong and ensure that the same preventable actions which resulted in the wrongful death would not happen to another.

Unlike other provinces in Canada, which in most cases have modernized long ago, many of your constituents are considered “worthless” under the discriminatory law in British Columbia.

Chelsea James, sadly, is one of these cases where no accountability can be brought against wrongdoers who were carelessly negligent in providing safe transport. Her story can be read here –

The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society is comprised of families who have been fighting for over two decades to see our laws modernized. They have drafted legislation that can solve this problem now.

These families, based on each individual personal experience of loss, have demanded that the legislation include the following tenets:

#1 The value of human life must not be based merely on whether the wrongfully killed was a breadwinner with dependants. There must be a legal recognition for the value of each life and the loss of love, guidance, care, companionship, and affection wrongfully taken from surviving family members.

#2 The value of human life must not be arbitrarily capped by legislation. Damages for the loss of life must be assessed individually by constitutionally independent superior courts, in recognition of the distinct relationship that existed between each of the surviving family members and the wrongfully killed loved one.

#3 All forms of non-pecuniary damages, including aggravated and punitive damages must be available under the legislation to be awarded in appropriate cases. Financial penalty assessed by a civil court when a wrongdoer maliciously, or recklessly kills another person is essential when criminal prosecution is not pursued or fails. General deterrence of future wrongdoing is an important objective.

#4 If an individual is not initially killed by a wrongful act, but later dies before the conclusion of litigation, this should not be a windfall for the wrongdoer. There should not be a perverse incentive for the wrongdoer to delay, or prolong litigation. Damages relating to conscious pain, suffering, and disability during the period between the wrong and the decedent’s death, including damages for loss of expectation of life, pain and suffering, physical disfigurement, or loss of amenities must remain available under the legislation.

#5 Families deserve the right to have their day in court with the ability to obtain professional legal representation on a contingency basis. No other piece of legislation in the province should bar the pursuit of an at-fault wrongful death claim against a negligent party. The contingency fee system does not discriminate socioeconomically, and it ensures the family can obtain the best representation necessary to obtain truth, justice, and accountability against a wrongdoer, no matter how big and powerful that wrongdoer might be. Families also deserve the right to have the case decided by a jury of their peers. This fundamental aspect of our democracy must be preserved.

What will you do to create a fair and adequate wrongful death law in BC?

Yours Truly,

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cc: Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon, Liberal Critic for Attorney General Mike de Jong, Liberal Critic for Public Safety & Solicitor General Mike Morris, BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau

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