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Trucking firm involved in multiple B.C. overpass strikes loses licence to operate

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government has cancelled the operating licence of the trucking company involved in six highway overpass strikes since 2021, but the firm says it plans to challenge the province's decision.
B.C. Transportation Minister Infrastructure Rob Fleming views flooding and mudslide repair and clean up progress on the Coquihalla Highway northeast of Hope, B.C., Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. British Columbia's provincial government has cancelled the operation licence of the trucking company involved in multiple highway overpass strikes since 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government has cancelled the operating licence of the trucking company involved in six highway overpass strikes since 2021, but the firm says it plans to challenge the province's decision.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming says in a statement that the province has sent a formal cancellation notice to Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd. for the company's operations in B.C., and the punishment is "the most severe action" that can be taken against a party with multiple infractions.

In a written response, company safety and compliance director Nitasha Chohan says they "fundamentally disagree" with the licence cancellation, and have been co-operating fully with the province after the last overpass strike in December.

Chohan's operations in B.C. have been suspended since December, when a load of construction girders carried by one of its trucks smashed into an overpass in Delta, and the company had been challenging the suspension in court.

Chohan says in the response that it will "continue to take steps to challenge this action," and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says the carrier has the right to appeal and can seek a judicial review on the decision — although the suspension will remain in effect during any appeal process.

The province says there have been 34 overpass or bridge strikes on major B.C. roads involving commercial vehicles since 2021.

Fleming says the cancellation of Chohan's licence was made to send a clear message to operators that overpass strikes on B.C. highways must stop.

"It has never been easier to follow a route to guide a load safely through our highway system and avoid the potential for impact with infrastructure," Fleming says in his statement.

"We know the vast majority of commercial drivers in B.C. operate safely and responsibly," he says. "This decision … follows changes that allow for progressive enforcement of suspensions to better deal with those few companies and drivers who are not being safe and responsible."

Chohan says in its response that the firm was "reluctant" to legally challenge the previous suspension and only took action because of what it describes as "procedural delays targeting" the company by the province.

It also says the province had not indicated to Chohan at any point that its protocols were inadequate or led to the crash in December, nor have the authorities said what the company could have done differently to avoid the latest overpass strike.

“The incident was the result of a terrible decision by one independent owner-operator who has taken full responsibility, not a failing by the company," Chohan's response says. "And the company’s customers and drivers should not bear the consequences as a result.”

In its existing legal challenge, Chohan claims the suspension following the December crash took its 65-truck fleet off B.C. roads, costing the firm upwards of $1 million a week.

The company called the suspension unreasonable, since the independent contractor involved in the crash had been terminated.

B.C. Premier David Eby criticized the B.C. firm when reacting to the legal challenge to the suspension, calling the company one of the "worst offenders" in the province's recent rash of overpass strikes.

"The astonishing part is that the company thinks that they should be still able to operate," he said at the time.

"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," Eby said. 

The province is also facing a legal challenge from Alberta-based Chohan Group Ltd., which says it is a separate entity from the B.C. company with a family connection and should not have its vehicles facing the same punishment as Chohan Freight Forwarders. 

Court documents say Kuljit Singh Chohan owns the B.C. firm, while his son Suneet Chohan owns and operates the Alberta company. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2024.

The Canadian Press