British Columbia trucking firm says ‘unreasonable’ suspension has cost it millions
February 9, 2024
A trucking company in British Columbia is suing the province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in an attempt to reverse a suspension that the company has claimed is costing it millions.
In a petition filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Monday, Feb. 5, Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd. claimed a provincial suspension of the company’s safety certificate – and the current lengthy investigation – has cost it “in excess of $1,000,000 per week,” as well as clients and contracts “including some in the range of $2-3 million in value.”
On top of financial losses, the company said it has suffered “reputational harm” as a result of the suspension.
It added that its employees have felt the financial strain, as well, with 63 company drivers unable to work during the ongoing investigation. The company said its office staff – including dispatchers, accounting employees and safety managers – have continued to receive payment as the company awaits the province’s decision.
The suspension stems from a Dec. 28 incident in which a truck owned by Chohan struck an overpass. At the time, British Columbia officials said the carrier’s suspension was “in the interest of public safety.”
The suspension of Chohan – along with three other carriers – came shortly after the British Columbia government announced increased fines and stricter penalties for companies involved in infrastructure crashes. Officials said that fines under the new system are the highest of their kind in Canada.
Of the four trucking companies to have their safety certificate suspended since the stiffer penalties went into effect, Chohan remains the only one to not have its suspension lifted.
Alberta-based Chohan Group Ltd. – a separate carrier owned by the son of the owner of Chohan Freight Forwarders – also is involved in the suit. Following Chohan’s suspension, the Alberta fleet was reported to be operating in British Columbia as a way of circumventing the penalty.
According to court documents, Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement concluded the two firms were “essentially one operation” and told Chohan Group in mid-January that it would be denied oversize permits until the completion of the investigation.
In response to the perceived misdeed, on Jan. 8, British Columbia Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Rob Fleming sent a letter to Federal Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez asking for collaboration with the provinces and territories to “improve the current decentralized safety certificate model and take an active role in finding solutions that will reduce the gaps in the current system that currently allow extra-provincial motor carrier undertakings (carriers) to lawfully avoid enforcement consequences when operating commercial vehicles unsafely across Canada.”
In its petition to the court, the trucking company claimed to have been fully cooperative with the investigation being conducted by CVSE. Despite this, it said it is in a holding pattern, waiting on a formal notice of cancellation before it can file an appeal.
Attorneys for Chohan called the suspension “unreasonable,” adding that the provincial government has told the company that a formal notice is forthcoming but has given no indication as to how long it might take to be issued.
According to the province’s Commercial Vehicle Bridge/Overpass Crash Report, the most recent incident was the sixth time the company had been involved in an infrastructure crash since December 2021. Officials said the ensuing suspension was a result of the “company’s unwillingness or inability to operate safely within the province.”
While this may seem damning on the surface, the company claimed to have shown a willingness to follow safety precautions after a June 2022 suspension forced Chohan to develop a compressive “safety action plan” to address CVSE’s concerns.
Since that plan went into place, the company operated without an infrastructure crash until the incident in December. Furthermore, Chohan said the driver involved in that crash ignored the company’s instructions that a “special permit and route” would be required after discovering the load height exceeded the limit.
As for demands, the company said it wants either the suspension lifted or a formal notice of cancellation issued in order to move ahead with an appeal. Chohan Group is asking the court to remove the order denying the company oversized permits.
While the trucking company has claimed to be exhausting all efforts to operate safely, officials in British Columbia are striking a decidedly different tone.
“This needs to stop,” the province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said following the suspension. “We know that the vast majority of commercial drivers in B.C. operate safely and responsibly. However, some operators are not getting the message.”
During a Wednesday, Feb. 7 news conference, British Columbia Premiere David Elby said that residents were “astonished and frustrated” with the number of infrastructure crashes in the province, calling Chohan “one of the worst offenders.”
“The astonishing part is that the company still thinks they should be able to operate, and they’re going to court to challenge our prohibition on their operating until they figure out how high bridges are and how high their trucks are,” Elby said. “My only hope is that on the way to court, they don’t run into a bridge. I encourage them to take the bus, or some other form of public transit, on the way to the courthouse.” LL