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Quebec coroner pushes for stronger penalties for dangerous drivers in wake of cyclist's death

Sébastien Filteau is shown here with his daughter, Emma. The 36-year-old was  thrown about 20 metres forward when he was struck by a driver who was driving 133 km/h in a 70km/h zone. (Submitted by Diane Camiré and Michel Filteau - image credit)
Sébastien Filteau is shown here with his daughter, Emma. The 36-year-old was thrown about 20 metres forward when he was struck by a driver who was driving 133 km/h in a 70km/h zone. (Submitted by Diane Camiré and Michel Filteau - image credit)

Michel Filteau says he's cried every day since his 36-year-old son was killed while riding his bike in Sherbrooke, Que.

Sébastien Filteau was struck by a vehicle driving upward of 130 km/h in a 70km/h zone on Oct. 15, 2021.

More than two years after his death, a coroner's report is recommending stronger penalties to deter people from driving dangerously.

Coroner Dr. Jean Brochu said Filteau and another cyclist were at an intersection the day of the accident, sporting yellow bibs and lights, when a vehicle quickly sped past another car and "did not see the cyclists until the last second."

Sébastien Filteau pictured with his wife, Stéphanie Ménard, and daughter, Emma. He was just a block away from his home when he was hit by a car on Oct. 15 2021.
Sébastien Filteau pictured with his wife, Stéphanie Ménard, and daughter, Emma. He was just a block away from his home when he was hit by a car on Oct. 15 2021.

Sébastien Filteau pictured with his wife, Stéphanie Ménard, and their baby daughter, Emma. He was just a block away from his home when he was hit by a car on Oct. 15, 2021. (Submitted by Diane Camiré and Michel Filteau)

The young father was thrown about 20 metres forward and was pronounced neurologically dead at the hospital the next day. The speeding driver was apprehended and pleaded guilty.

Brochu said that the driver had repeat offences for dangerous driving and his driver's licence had been suspended at the time of the accident.

"He absolutely did not have the right to be behind the wheel," said Michel Filteau.

"I'm overwhelmed by emotion."

Stéphanie Ménard pictured placing flowers at the "ghost bike" that was placed on the site of the accident to honour Sébastien Filteau.
Stéphanie Ménard pictured placing flowers at the "ghost bike" that was placed on the site of the accident to honour Sébastien Filteau.

Stéphanie Ménard pictured placing flowers at the 'ghost bike' placed at the site of the accident to honour Sébastien Filteau. (Jean Arel/Radio-Canada)

'Driving a vehicle is not a fundamental right,' says coroner

Diane Camiré, Sébastien Filteau's mother, says the driver of the vehicle used his car as a weapon.

"And he never braked," said Camiré, her voice shaky. "He continued on his way."

The parents hope for concrete action but worry nothing will come of the coroner's recommendations.

At the end of his three-page report, Brochu recommends Quebec's automobile insurance board, the SAAQ, consider the possibility of increasing sanctions for driving that puts the lives of other road users at risk.

He said something needs to give.

Filteau was wearing lights and a yellow bib but was struck by a driver who was later apprehended and pleaded guilty.
Filteau was wearing lights and a yellow bib but was struck by a driver who was later apprehended and pleaded guilty.

Filteau was wearing lights and a yellow bib but was struck by a driver who was later apprehended and pleaded guilty. (Submitted by Diane Camiré and Michel Filteau)

"A family there will go on without a father, without a husband, forever," said Brochu.

"Driving a vehicle is not a fundamental right … You should not be allowed to drive a vehicle, and in this case eight times with dangerous driving is plenty enough to determine that."

'As heartbreaking as it is infuriating'

Séverine Le Page, spokesperson for Souliers et Vélos Fantômes Quebec, which sets up memorials for cyclists and pedestrians killed on the road, says the coroner's report highlights the avoidability of cyclist accidents.

"He was a young father who was about to celebrate his child's birthday and he was a corner from his residence," said Le Page.

"It's as heartbreaking as it is infuriating because you know it's avoidable."

Le Page questions whether the coroner could have gone further in his recommendations.

"We have a problem in our culture that for the past 50-60 years we've been told by so many… that we have a right to drive. And that's not what it is. It's a privilege," said Le Page.

"Maybe it should be harder to get a licence and it should be a lot harder to get it back once it gets removed."

In May 2022, her organization set up a bike at the site of the accident to honour Filteau. It's one of over 20 "ghost bikes" set up across Quebec.

Filteau's ghost bike is one of more than 20 set up across the province.
Filteau's ghost bike is one of more than 20 set up across the province.

Filteau's ghost bike is one of more than 20 set up across the province. (Yannick Cournoyer/Radio-Canada)

The office of Quebec's transport minister says last month Geneviève Guilbault introduced Bill 48, which would raise fines for violating the Highway Safety Code.

They said the government's road safety plan would update the rules for demerit points.

"One death on our roads is always one death too many," wrote the SAAQ in an emailed statement.

The SAAQ says it is committed to reviewing the scientific literature about toughening sanctions for driving without a licence. It hopes to also encourage "changes in behaviour."

It notes that the penalties for driving without a valid licence include the seizure of the vehicle for 30 days, towing fees and fines between $600-$3,000.