VANCOUVER – Two trucking firms are taking the B.C. government to court to get their vehicles back on the province’s roads after an overpass crash last December, in what Premier David Eby called an “astonishing” move.
Lawyers for B.C.-based Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd. and Alberta-based Chohan Group Ltd. said the government wrongly concluded they were “one operation,” and instead they are separate legal entities with a family connection.
“Nobody is denying that,” said Chohan Group’s lawyer Kevin Smith.
“It’s difficult for the company to understand how the British Columbia regulator has formed a view that the incident on Dec. 28 implies that there is some threat to road safety in British Columbia from the Alberta company.”
Chohan Freight Forwarders says a truck driven by an “owner-operator” hit the overpass on Highway 99 in Delta, lodging construction girders into the structure.
Court documents say Kuljit Singh Chohan owns the B.C. firm, while his son Suneet Chohan owns and operates the Alberta firm.
Eby told an unrelated news conference on Wednesday that British Columbians were frustrated by the number of overpass strikes, calling “this company Chohan” one of the “worst offenders.”
“The astonishing part is that the company thinks that they should be still able to operate,” he said.
Eby added: “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.”
Smith said the trucking industry is regulated province by province, and Alberta-based Chohan Group has never been involved in a highway overpass crash, though B.C.’s director of commercial vehicle safety and enforcement decided to deny the firm oversized load permits following the crash.
The companies have separate fleets, he said, and regulatory action against the Alberta firm in response to an incident in B.C. “totally ignores how these companies work in practice.”
B.C.-based Chohan Freight Forwarders, meanwhile, claims in court documents that it wants its safety certificate restored.
The company said the suspension that took its 65-truck fleet off B.C. roads is unreasonable, costing upwards of $1 million a week, and the independent contractor involved in the Highway 99 crash has admitted fault and been terminated.
Catherine George, Chohan Freight’s lawyer, said the suspension had taken a toll on employees and owner-operators who get paid by the job.
George and Smith are both with the firm Farris LLP and took part in a simultaneous phone interview with The Canadian Press.
George said Chohan Freight is in “a bit of a limbo” as it awaits a decision to get the suspension lifted.
She said the company co-operated fully with the investigation after the Highway 99 crash, which was the result of an owner-operator allegedly defying the “express instructions of the company” about the oversized load he was hauling.
“There was nothing more they could have done to ensure that the incident didn’t happen, and so the suspension that’s been imposed appears designed not to ensure road safety, which is the purpose of these things under the legislation, but to punish Chohan Freight Forwarders for an incident that was entirely out of their control,” George said.
Smith said the crash generated “significant coverage” and an “outcry” that unfairly grouped the firms together as one.
“Prior to this incident, the two companies have existed co-operatively but independently for many years, and neither regulator has ever taken the position that they’re alter egos of one another or the same company,” he said.
“People pointed out on social media and elsewhere that there were Chohan-labelled trucks, not realizing perhaps that they were separate entities. The government said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’”
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said in a statement at the time that the suspension of Chohan Freight’s fleet was “a result of the company’s unwillingness or inability to operate safely within the province, following its sixth infrastructure crash in two years.”
Fleming said both the driver and the carrier could face “the toughest fines in the country” and the outcome of the investigation could lead to more action.
“This needs to stop. We know that the vast majority of commercial drivers in B.C. operate safely and responsibly. However, some operators are not getting the message,” said Fleming.
The ministry said Wednesday that “further enforcement action is being considered” against Chohan Freight Forwarders, but it could not comment further as the matter was before the courts.
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