Members of Canada’s Indian community were in mourning Monday after five students were killed in a collision between a van and a tractor-trailer on Highway 401 in Ontario last weekend.
Harpreet Singh, Jaspinder Singh, Karanpal Singh, Mohit Chouhan and Pawan Kumar – all Indian students aged between 21 and 24 – were pronounced dead at the scene of Saturday’s crash. Police said they had all studied in the Montreal or Greater Toronto areas.
A spokesperson for Canada College, a Montreal school that takes in international students, said at least three of those who died and one of the two injured survivors studied at the school.
John David Couturier says the school administration is devastated by the loss and is scrambling to support the students and arrange for the bodies of the victims to be sent back to India.
“We are all in shock,” he said. “I can only imagine the families in India, they are so far away, and now there are two students in the hospital who don’t have their families here.”
A van stopped by the side of the road, police say
Couturier says most of the victims associated with the school had studied business administration. He did not name the pupils, saying the school would provide more information once it was sure the families in India had been contacted. He says police were still working to confirm whether a fourth person who died had also been a student at Canada College.
The van with eight people inside was traveling west on Highway 401 Saturday morning when there was a collision with a tractor-trailer around 3:45 a.m. near Quinte West, Ont., OPP said. Ontario (OPP).
Ontario Provincial Police spokeswoman Maggie Pickett said Monday that police believe the van was stopped on the side of the road when the accident happened. The investigation into the accident is continuing and no charges have been laid.
This is a horrible tragedy, and I think the community is in mourning.– Dr. Sshivendra Dwivedi, Head of the Canada-India Global Forum
A passenger who got out of the van and the driver of the tractor-trailer were not injured, Pickett said, while two of the occupants of the van were taken to hospital in serious condition.
It’s unclear where the students were headed, but Couturier says it’s common for Canada College students to travel between Quebec and Ontario frequently because the week’s classes are condensed into two or three days.
He says around 70% of the school’s 2,500 students are from India and they tend to form close ties as they progress towards graduation and permanent residence.
“A lot of them are from Montreal, some of them are from Belleville, Brampton, Ontario,” he said. “And so they’ll come for weekend classes and stay with a friend or whatever. It’s really a community, you know?”
“A terrible tragedy”
Dr Shivendra Dwivedi, who heads an organization called Canada India Global Forum, says the community is shaken by the loss.
“We are very saddened by this tragedy and feel very, very bad for the families and students who lost their lives,” he said.
“It’s a horrible tragedy, and I think the community is in mourning.”
Dwivedi says his group was mobilizing resources to provide bereavement counseling to victims’ friends in Canada.
Although he does not know the victims personally, he says many Indian students who come to Canada to attend private colleges in hopes of obtaining permanent residency are young and far from their support systems.
“They do it because they want the chance to come to Canada – very hardworking, very dedicated students trying to improve their lives,” he said.
He says his group is also working with officials in Toronto and Ottawa to ensure that the wishes of families in India are fulfilled.
Couturier says Canada College has offered to repatriate the bodies to India and pay for the cost of its students’ funerals.