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B.C. wants Ottawa to close ‘semi-truck’-sized commercial trucking loophole

Call comes after company is using Alberta-plated trucks in B.C. after losing safety certificate
This was the aftermath after a truck carrying steel girders struck the Highway 99 overpass in Delta, B.C. The provincial suspended the safety certificate of Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd. (Greg Cruse/Canadian Press)

B.C. is pairing tougher measures against commercial truck companies whose vehicles hit overpasses with calls for tougher measures to prevent companies from skirting safety rules across provincial lines.

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming called on federal counterpart Pablo Rodriguez to fix the current system, which has allowed one company to use vehicles licensed in Alberta to operate in British Columbia.

B.C. last month suspended the safety certificate for Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd. after one of its vehicles hit an overpass on Dec. 28, 2023 in Delta with damages potentially exceeding $2 million. The immediate suspension of the company’s safety certificate — which essentially parked the company’s entire fleet of 65 commercial vehicles — was among new measures Fleming announced in early December.

“Infrastructure crashes have a huge impact,” Fleming said. “They delay commuters, affect the movement of goods and can impede first responders. This means families, businesses and the economy all suffer. That’s why we’re taking tougher action, grounding fleets through suspensions and increasing fines, so highway traffic keeps moving safely and reliably for travellers and commercial vehicles and people can count on their commute.”

But social media posts soon revealed pictures of vehicles branded Chohan Group operating following the overpass strike — which was Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd’s sixth infrastructure hit in two years.

But the suspension of Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd’s safety certificate in B.C. does not impact the Chohan Group based in Edmonton, even if under the same ownership. Carriers from one province may operate in other provinces, provided they have the necessary papers.

Fleming is now calling on the federal government to close this loophole.

“Because the safety certificates are not connected, a suspension or a cancellation of a carrier’s safety certificate in one jurisdiction does not affect their operations based in another jurisdiction,” he said in the letter. Depending on rules in the other provinces, authorities may not have cause or authority to pursue comparable actions, Fleming added.

“This leaves a carrier who has had their operations suspended in one jurisdiction free to continue their operations with no change to their safety practices by using vehicles plated in another jurisdiction,” Fleming said. “A very small minority of companies are creating huge problems for road safety as well as extensive, costly infrastructure damage. Collaboration between all levels of government is necessary to hold these organizations accountable across all Canadian jurisdictions,” he added.

Laura Scaffidi, Rodriguez’s press secretary, said he looks forward to meeting with the province on this issue.

“Safety is always our highest priority,” Scaffidi said. “We have great collaboration between our two governments.”

Fleming’s letter is the latest effort by B.C. to deter crashes into overpasses.

Companies with a history of non-compliance, including previous infrastructure crashes, now face increasingly tough sanctions, including the potential suspension and possible cancellation of a company’s carrier safety certificate. Such a move would prevent companies from operating in B.C.

Companies could also see themselves shut down immediately, depending on the severity of the violation. While that enforcement tool was already available, government says it is now a permanent tool.

Fines for vehicles exceeding height limits have also gone up to $575 from $115.

Another change is the mandatory installation of an in-cab warning device for dump trucks, alerting drivers about raised dump boxes, by June 1. Failure to install such a device comes with a $598 fine.

Meanwhile, heavy commercial vehicles will also have to have speed-limiting systems activate by April 5. These systems will prevent these vehicles from travelling more than 105 km/h on provincial highways. The fine for non-compliance and tampering adds up to $295 and three driver penalty points.

RELATED: Licences yanked after transport truck plows into B.C. highway overpass

BC United’s Trevor Halford, MLA for Surrey White-Rock and Shadow Minister for Transportation and Infrastructure, last month acknowledged the measures as a step in the right direction but questioned what took government “so long” against the backdrop of more two dozen crashes into overpasses during the past two years.

He also accused government of being behind in closing a loophole “so big you could drive a semi-truck” through it in calling for tough measures. Companies suspended in one province for driving unsafely in another should suffer that fate everywhere, he said.

Halford also wondered whether the new measures go far enough.

“On the overpass strikes themselves, this (issue) costs commuters hours and hours of travel and it has cost taxpayers millions and millions of dollars worth of damage on infrastructure,” Halford said. “This minister has now gotten around trying to do something, but obviously a lot more should be done.”

Halford would like to see new legislation allowing for higher fines for height violations.

“I know he (Fleming) said that legislation precludes (fines higher than $575), but we just came out of the (fall session),” Halford said. “So how come that did not get done?”

Halford also called for tougher measures to hold commercial trucking companies more directly responsible for infrastructure costs.

Halford said “99.9 per cent” of truckers are “doing a phenomenal job” with British Columbians counting on them every day.

“But the odd time, we are seeing some very severe irresponsibility out on our roads and that needs to be stopped and the drivers and the companies need to be held accountable for that,” he said. “Taxpayers should not be on the hook for totally avoidable situations like this.”

When Black Media Press asked whether government has given any thought to the idea of making companies help cover parts of damages caused to infrastructure, Fleming’s ministry said that if drivers were found to be responsible for causing a crash that damages structures such as overpasses, medians or barriers, third-party liability insurance would typically cover or help cover repair costs.

Dave Earle, president and CEO, BC Trucking Association, said his association welcomes and supports what he called the “decisive measures” which government has taken to enhance safety and reduce infrastructure crashes involving commercial heavy-duty trucks.

“These initiatives mark a pivotal step toward creating safer roadways for all and underscore our shared commitment to fostering a culture focused on risk-prevention in the trucking industry,” he said.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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