Reaching out to the Wemotaci community after a tragedy
Operation Lifesaver’s mission is to educate Canadians in order to prevent railway incidents that result in serious injury or even death. Sometimes, that means doing outreach in communities where tragic incidents have already occurred: communities like Wemotaci, Quebec.
In September 2018, an 8-year-old boy was killed in Wemotaci when he was hit by a train. He and a group of other children were playing on a railway bridge over the Saint-Maurice river when a passenger train came along the tracks. The other children were able to get off the bridge in time; he was not.
Earlier this week, Operation Lifesaver (OL) spent two days in Wemotaci, a First Nation’s reserve 400 km north of Montreal, working with community members to prevent rail-related incidents. Jean-Guy DuSablon is OL's Eastern Regional Coordinator and a retired VIA Rail service manager. He says doing outreach in communities like Wemotaci is critical.
“It saves lives. If we can make a difference by saving one life or preventing an injury, it is worth it,” says DuSablon. “The impact of a railway crossing or trespassing incident is severe — you can lose your life or a limb. People don’t realize that, so that’s why I am working on the education part.”
Over two days, DuSablon held workshops with students at Seskitin Elementary, as well as at Nikanik High School. He also provided rail-safety training to a group of teachers, social service workers, police and health care workers from the community.
Spreading the rail safety message to all Canadians
DuSablon says the message he tries to get across is the same in any community he visits: trains are big, they’re fast, and they’re unforgiving if you cross their path. He believes that to keep tragedies from happening in Indigenous communities like Wemotaci, OL needs to work more collaboratively with the people who live there.
“It is important to get them involved. So, I didn’t go there to tell them what to do. I wanted them to tell me what they could do and how we can support them,” explains DuSablon. “For instance, do we need to adapt some material for them and translate it in their language?”
This is a step OL has already begun as part of its ongoing outreach with Indigenous communities. Next month, OL will make some of its resources available in three Indigenous languages: Innu, Atikmekw and Naskapi. Translated versions of OL’s VR videos for ATV and snowmobile operators, as well as several safety brochures and colouring and activity sheets for children will be available in print and/or on its website.
“The goal is to ensure all Canadians, including those in Indigenous communities like Wemotaci, can access and understand OL’s rail safety message. These new resources are just one of the ways we are trying to do that,” says Sarah Mayes, National Director of Operation Lifesaver. “We believe that through education, tragic incidents like the one in Wemotaci can be prevented.”