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B.C. trucking company going to court over strike suspension, blames rogue driver

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A B.C. trucking company currently suspended from operating is blaming a rogue contractor for an overpass strike, taking the Ministry of Transportation to court as it tries to overturn an “unreasonable” suspension but the premier has now weighed in, blaming the company’s dismal record.

In a petition to the court, Chohan Freight Forwarders alleges the Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement is leaving them in a legal “no man’s land” with an indefinite suspension they have no grounds to appeal.

Chohan blames Jasveer Sangha, the owner-operator of the truck involved in the Dec. 28 incident in Delta for reporting an over height load to the company, which claims it told him would require an alternate route with a special permit. The documents allege, after talking to friends, and “in breach of the petitioner’s directions, (Sangha) departed” and hit the overpass on highway 99. 

“(The company’s) sort of at a loss to understand what more they could've done,” said Kevin Smith, a lawyer at Farris LLP representing Chohan. “Nobody has been able to explain to them what they should've done differently in this situation.”

The CVSE, immediately took all 65 of Chohan’s trucks off the road with a suspension of their licence, with Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming issuing a statement saying it was the sixth infraction in two years and the suspension was the “result of the company's unwillingness or inability to operate safely within the province." 

Premier mocks legal action 

Premier David Eby addressed the company’s legal efforts to get its fleet back on the road, describing Chohan as “one of the worst offenders” with six overpass strikes.

According to Ministry of Transportation statistics, Chohan is the only company with repeat incidents, out of 34 they’ve logged province-wide since December of 2021. 

 

“The astonishing part is that the company thinks that they should be still able to operate and they're going to court,” said Eby, who is still registered as a practising lawyer with the Law Society of B.C. 

“My only hope is that on the way to court, they don't run into a bridge,” he quipped. “I encourage them to take the bus or some other form of public transit on the way to the courthouse.”

Smith slammed Eby’s comments, questioning whether the suspension was politically motivated, rather than based on genuine safety, which he believes is “both cruel to the individuals involved, and (in our view) unlawful”

“While he may have gotten a laugh in the moment, what is not funny is that 63 people, many of whom are the sole breadwinners in their families, have been out of work and not earning any income since December 28 because of the enforcement action taken by the Province,” he said.

More details from the filing 

In the days that followed the Dec. 28 incident and certificate suspension, the company insists it has “responded promptly” to all requests from CVSE, including a statement from Sangha “accepting full responsibility for contravening the clear instructions he received and acting contrary to (Chohan’s) policy” the day after the incident.

Owner Kuljit Singh Chohan alleges that he and his representatives have made multiple attempts to learn the results of CVSE’s investigation, but neither they nor their lawyers have had any success and, by Jan. 17, had begun expressing concern about the timeline.

On Jan. 23, the lawyer for CVSE wrote to tell the company not only would the suspension continue, but that they were planning to fully cancel the safety certificate the company required to operate. The petition claims they’ve not received the documentation they need to fight the cancellation, with 63 drivers and affiliated owner-operators out of work while the process drags on.

“It appears the suspension was imposed, not to ensure road safety, but in order to further penalize the petitioner for the incident,” and since there’s no legal mechanism to challenge suspensions, the company is in a “no man’s land” with what amounts to a de facto cancellation since the suspension is indefinite.

The company acknowledges they were responsible for five “infrastructure crash incidents” from Dec. 10, 2021, to June 8, 2022, and that enforcement action was taken against them, but insists they had cleaned up their act until the “rogue driver” incident.

The minister has cracked down on trucking companies after a string of overhead strikes have damaged infrastructure, snarled traffic and led to questions about inspections, enforcement and public safety in the past couple of years. 

The Dec. 28 incident alone led to damage estimated to cost $2 million to repair.

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