Action, Following Broncos’ Deaths

Many Canadians, myself included, have friends or family members who have died, or been seriously injured, in highway collisions with semis.

Yesterday morning, in a provincial court in my home province of Saskatchewan, the driver of the semi that collided with the Humboldt Broncos’ team bus pled guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

It was reported that the driver had no alcohol in his system and was not distracted by a cell phone.

Many can see that convicting this man alone will not achieve true accountability for what went wrong in this case.

The truck was owned and operated by Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., an Alberta corporation which had only been operating for a few months. Hiring was apparently done through a related organization.

The owner of the trucking company was quoted as saying something along the lines of “I don’t know why this went wrong for this guy.”

The driver failed to stop at the intersection.

The Saskatchewan government will be installing rumble strips, lights, signs and road markers in the area of that collision.  All very well.

But this collision obviously involves much, much larger issues.

This is not an issue specific to this intersection, or to Saskatchewan.

So many questions remain.

Do our regulations reflect that a vehicle of this nature is essentially a lethal weapon?

The specifics vary across jurisdictions, but why do we exempt certain types of truckers from the overtime provisions that apply to other types of employees?

Why do we permit them to work upward of 50 to 60 hours per week?

Even under rules which many say are lax already, a certain percentage of truckers routinely exceed hours of service limits.

Are the penalties they encounter for doing so only a minor cost of doing business?

A transportation official in Alberta was quoted as saying that Adesh Deol Trucking’s previous hours of service violation was a “minor infraction.”

Why is potential driver fatigue considered minor?

The driver was reported to have only had two weeks’ training. In addition to that, he had been driving for this employer for only two weeks before the fatal collision.

Why was he permitted to drive such an extremely heavy load, on a trailer of that type, secured in the way that it was, on a relatively small Saskatchewan road, in the winter, with so little training and experience?

What specific training did this driver have, and not have?

What training and experience is required of drivers before taking the wheel to haul various types of cargo and weights?

Who was supervising this driver?

What training and experience did his supervisor possess?

Who assessed this driver as competent to haul a load of that type and weight, secured in the way that it was or was not, on that vehicle, on the highway in winter?

It has been reported that the Alberta owner of the trucking company was charged with several offences (two counts of failing to maintain logs for drivers’ hours of service, three counts of failing to monitor driver compliance with safety regulations, and two counts of having more than one daily log for one day), and one charge for failing to follow a written safety program.  The potential fines are not overly significant.

In this column, I have previously written about section 217.1 of the Criminal Code, also known as the Westray provision.  The intent of that provision is to facilitate criminal prosecution of those who oversee workers, if they fail to “take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm” to workers or to “others.”

Each of those who were tragically injured or killed that day are “others” under this provision.

Will the employer be charged under the Criminal Code?

If not, why not?

Do regulators scrutinize the use of “independent contractors” in the trucking industry as a way of skirting around regulations? Are there cases in which those workers are truly employees, and properly subject to employment laws?

The United States Department of Transportation heavily regulates its transportation industry. This includes mandatory drug and alcohol testing in certain circumstances of workers performing safety sensitive activities, such as driving.

Apart from general occupational health and safety requirements, Canada has no similar requirement.  Rather, we leave this up to individual employers.  Why?

How many more will perish at the behest of a semi, before we see meaningful, substantive reform?

In the wake of this tragedy, our politicians offered the expected expressions of sympathy.

Without action, these are mere platitudes.

Will those words be lost in the cool Saskatchewan winter winds, only to be reiterated in the wake of the next tragedy?

What legislative provisions are our governments introducing that will hold the trucking industry accountable, once and for all?

Where are the legislative amendments?

Perhaps the trucking industry will oppose any proposed amendments as being uneconomic.

Surely, Canadians do not support trading lives for dollars and cents.

Reforms are long overdue.  It’s time for substantive action.

On or before the first anniversary of this tragedy would be a very good time to introduce sweeping reforms to this industry, prior to the next federal and provincial elections.

A slightly modified version of this article is to appear in the Kelowna Daily Courier on or about January 11, 2019 and in other local news carriers. The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Advice from an experienced legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances.  If you would like to reach us, we may be reached at 250-764-7710 or info@inspirelaw.ca.  

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