Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice. She has been practicing law since 1994, with brief stints away to begin raising children. Susan has experience in many areas of law, but is most drawn to areas in which she can make a positive difference in people���s lives, including employment law. She has been a member of the Law Society of Alberta since 1994 and a member of the Law Society of British Columbia since 2015. Susan grew up in Saskatchewan. Her parents were both entrepreneurs, and her father was also a union leader who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of workers. Before moving to B.C., Susan practiced law in both Calgary and Fort McMurray, AB. Living and practicing law in Fort McMurray made a lasting impression on Susan. It was in this isolated and unique community that her interest in employment law, and Canada’s oil sands industry, took hold. In 2013, Susan moved to the Okanagan with her family, where she currently resides. photo:contributed

Kootnekoff: Action following Humbolt Broncos’ death

Earlier this week, 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 charging 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 done through a related organization.

The owner 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 relaxed 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. He had been driving on his own 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 road of this type, with so little training and experience?

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

What requirements must a driver satisfy before hauling various types of cargo and weights on our highways?

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 a highway during the winter?

In this column, I have previously written about section 217.1 of the Criminal Code, also known as the Westray provisions. 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 qualify as “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. 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?

Reforms are long overdue. It’s time for 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.

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. Check out our website, www.inspirelaw.ca.

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