Jaskirat Singh Sidhu will have to live with an unbearable guilt for his role in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 more.
But the truck driver who caused the collision and plunged a country into grief on that April day in 2018 isn’t the only one who should be burdened with remorse and shame. The Humboldt tragedy was the proverbial accident waiting to happen, the consequence of governments that for far too long allowed bad actors in Canada’s trucking industry to put inexperienced and poorly trained (if trained at all) drivers on the road.
After a recent investigation by The Globe and Mail’s Kathy Tomlinson, we now have a better understanding of the depths to which the sleaze and exploitation taking place in the trucking world is creating hazardous situations on our roadways. The contents are as sad as they are infuriating.
Trucking companies across the country (although there is a preponderance of them in British Columbia) are putting young foreign nationals, including temporary foreign workers, on our roads with little to no training at wages far below the national average.
In some cases, these young people are paying tens of thousands of dollars to unscrupulous immigration consultants who promise to help them find jobs in hopes of permanent residency and a better life in Canada. The Globe investigation found that some companies in B.C. using these novice drivers don’t even have a safety certificate – supposedly a legal requirement in this country.
Yet Ottawa is still rubber-stamping the use of temporary foreign workers, the majority of whom have come from India, to work for these outfits anyway.
Mr. Sidhu was driving a semi owned by a company with a poor safety record. He had minimal instruction. In the minutes leading up to the crash, he was distracted by flapping tarps he had failed to properly secure. The Globe report profiled one 26-year-old driver who confessed to being terrified of driving dangerous mountain passes in winter with absolutely no training. Coming from Amritsar, India, he had no experience driving in icy conditions.
As we speak, our highways are littered with drivers just like him.
So far, the response to these revelations has been grossly insufficient. The B.C. Transportation Minister said she was “very, very concerned” and would be “acting” soon. But this activity has been an open secret for years. B.C. has played an outsized role when it comes to foreign nationals taking these jobs. Why? Where has the oversight been, not just by the current NDP government, but by its Liberal predecessors?
Why hasn’t the federal government cracked down on these supposed immigration consultants who charge exorbitant fees in exchange for helping these young people land jobs that come with often horrible and inhumane working conditions.
Where is the scrutiny of this industry, which has included many who have operated in this shameless manner under the nose of governments for too long? What they are doing is unquestionably immoral, yet they seem to be able to go about their business with impunity.
There should be national minimum training standards. Often these truckers are traversing several provinces in a single trip. (The Globe investigation found that some companies with suspect semis put two or three drivers in them for long hauls so they can drive round-the-clock and avoid roadside inspections.) Truckers from B.C. get no mandatory training before hitting the road. That is an outrage.
Despite all the publicity that has surrounded this issue in the wake of Humboldt, some governments still don’t get it. This week, for instance, it was revealed that Alberta has granted exemptions to safety rules brought in by the previous NDP government after the tragedy in Saskatchewan. These new exclusions will apply to a large number of big-rig operators driving for strictly agricultural purposes – a group that will now vastly outnumber those who had to pass the more rigorous training requirements introduced by the NDP.
The reason? The government says there is a backlog of applicants waiting to be tested because of an insufficient number of examiners. Why not just extend the deadline until the backlog disappears rather than get rid of the requirement for more demanding training altogether?
The underlying conditions that gave us Humboldt and other, no less tragic trucking accidents continue to exist. And our governments will be complicit in the crashes that are surely still to come as a result of inexperienced drivers being at the controls of powerful machines they aren’t remotely ready to drive.
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