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'No grounds': RCMP say no criminal charges in fatal Alberta icefield crash

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RCMP work on the scene of a sightseeing bus rollover at the Columbia Icefield near Jasper, Alta., Sunday, July 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — Mounties say no criminal charges will be laid in a fatal rollover of an all-terrain tour bus at the Columbia Icefield in the Rocky Mountains more than two years ago.

Three people were killed and 14 others had life-threatening injuries after the red-and-white Ice Explorer lost control on the road to the Athabasca Glacier, about 100 kilometres southeast of Jasper, Alta., on July 18, 2020. 

The bus had 27 people on board when it rolled about 50 metres down a moraine embankment before coming to rest on its roof. 

The RCMP completed its investigation in April and sent its findings to the Alberta Crown prosecutor's office for review.

"We consulted with them after they had done a thorough review of all the evidence and ultimately a decision was made that there is just no grounds to lay criminal charges in this matter," said RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff in an interview Friday.

Savinkoff said the RCMP investigation was lengthy and thorough. 

He said investigators brought a collision analyst to the scene of the crash and ended up seizing the Ice Explorer involved as part of the review and kept in contact with Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety, Alberta's minister of labour and other regulatory bodies.

Two civil lawsuits have been filed on behalf of people on the bus that day.

The tour bus operator, Brewster Inc., was also charged in May with eight counts under the Occupational Health and Safety Act related to use and maintenance of seatbelts, controlling hazards and ensuring equipment was in safe operating condition. 

Savinkoff said police were aware of the provincial charges but the criminal standard is higher. The criminal probe was independent, separate and parallel to the Occupational Health and Safety investigation, he added.

RCMP, along with victims services, reached out to family members and those injured in the crash to give them the news, he said.

"It's an unfortunate, extremely tragic incident. So yeah, there's going to be family members and individuals that could be upset by these findings," Savinkoff said.

"But ultimately this is a complex investigation ... Did something illegal that we can prosecute happen? And the decision was made in speaking to the experts and investigators that it didn't meet that criteria."

An official with Pursuit, the company that runs the tours, welcomed the announcement that there would not be criminal charges.

"From the beginning, we have actively supported a transparent and multi-agency investigation into the cause of this tragic accident," said an email from Tanya Otis, the company's director of media and communications.

"Following an extensive multidisciplinary review, we implemented additional measures to our safety and training programs that adhere to and exceed industry best practices."

Tours of the Icefield resumed last year. The tour bus operator earlier said seatbelts had been added to the buses and changes to driver training and road maintenance had been made.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

The Canadian Press