Large vehicles can be used as weapons by those with deranged intentions. However getting the facts right in determining whether an act was deliberate cannot be based on emotion and hysteria.

Two children were killed and others injured when a transit bus veered into a daycare centre in Laval, Quebec on Wednesday morning, February 8, 2023. News media reported on that very day that the bus driver had been charged with first degree murder. It was reported that neighbours at the site had to subdue the bus driver who “removed all his clothing and started screaming”.

In an article written by Morgan Lowrie of The Canadian Press, a neighbour, Hamdi Benchaabane, gave an account of what he saw:

Hamdi Benchaabane, who lives next door to the daycare, quickly knew something was wrong. He’s used to watching buses slowly navigate the roundabout at the end of his dead-end street to pull up at the bus stop in front of his house. This one instead made a sharp turn into the daycare’s driveway and headed straight for the building at a speed he estimates was 30 or 40 kilometres an hour.

With children and parents also screaming the magnitude of the chaos and emotion can be difficult to imagine.

There have been numerous incidents in recent years of deliberate actions by deranged persons who use all sorts of weapons to kill innocent persons. Most commonly these actions involved guns. But the prevalence of using motor vehicles as a weapon seems to have become more common.

At the same time new motor vehicles have become far more complex in their design. Motor vehicles are now “moving computers” with numerous sensors and modules that control almost all functions. It has come to the point that only the engineers who design these complex networks really know how they operate and where they might fail. While police have access to vehicular modules and some data is available to examine, the more complex issues still remain trade secrets in the hands of the manufacturers’ engineers. In this light we fail to acknowledge that the failures of such advanced systems are not easily detected.

How quickly it has been forgotten that a few years ago General Motors was involved in the “ignition switch” defect that caused vehicles to shut down unexpectedly and the vehicle safety systems such as air bags failed to function. At last report General Motors admitted that hundreds of persons died from this direct cause, while the actual number remains unreported. While these tragedies were occurring, from year to year, no one clued into the possibility that there was a defect in an ignition switch. It was only an independent technician, separate from the sophisticates of national transportation agencies, police or engineers, who detected that a spring within the switch was too small. This led to the GM engineer who was the culprit who failed to inform anyone that he knew the existence of the problem. These are the kinds of things that can happen, and do happen, behind the shadows of public knowledge.

In this environment of deliberate murders and vehicle complexities, another factor has emerged with the advent of the internet and the misinformation that easily sends most persons into a state of hysteria without their recognition that they are being manipulated.

Misinformation and hysteria are not new. In the late 1600s it was what took dozens of persons to their executions in the witch hunts of Salem Massachusetts. It is what Hitler used to turn the German people to accepting that Jews were evil and should be destroyed. It is what McCarthy used in the 1950s to chase suspected communists in the U.S. destroying many lives and reputations. More recently it is what was used by Donald Trump to suggest to many unhinged individuals that they needed to storm Washington’s Capitol building because their freedom was being taken away. These matters demonstrate that clever use of misinformation at times of emotional upheaval work very well with the general populace in creating the hysteria that is sometimes purposely intended.

With respect to the Laval bus crash there are facts that suggest it could have been purposely intended by a purposeful bus driver. However there are also facts that could suggest other explanations such as a defective bus that became uncontrollable. Or it could be that the bus driver became mentally or physically dysfunctional, or both. Very often the true facts cannot be known until sufficient, objective evidence is analyzed in an unbiased manner.

What is striking however is the hysteria that existed shortly after the crash and the hysteria that was perpetuated in the news media that reported the comments of various witnesses without clarifying that one should be careful in drawing conclusions just because someone said something. On the very day of the collision one news report indicated that the bus driver had already been charged with first degree murder. How many of the objective facts could have been properly analysed in less than 24 hours to believe that such a charge was based on refutable facts? In many instances hardware needs to be brought in to connect to vehicular modules such as engine control modules and these need to be examined carefully by qualified experts before conclusions are drawn. In many instances the actual documentation of the physical evidence at the site can take many hours. I strongly suspect that these actions were not properly completed before the announcement came, on the very same day of the collision, that the bus driver was charged with first degree murder.

Obviously we should wait till all the facts are in. But the reality is that those facts never do come in. The important facts needed for the populace to gain a clear understanding of what occurred are, essentially, never revealed. What remains is hysteria, built on unsubstantiated opinions and conclusions, that is sometimes never quelled.