A family-run trucking business is suing B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation in a bid to overturn a suspension for a series of overpass crashes.
In a petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court, Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd. says it has lost millions since Dec. 28 — the day the Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement (CVSE) branch suspended the company's operations after six overpass crashes in just over two years.
The company claims it's stuck in a kind of limbo with no ability to appeal until it gets a formal notice of cancellation — something it's been told to expect, but with no indication of how long it might take to be issued.
The legal proceedings highlight enforcement efforts related to a string of overpass crashes that have plagued B.C. highways in recent years.
Driver allegedly ignored instructions
According to court documents, Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd. was first issued a notice of suspension in June 2022 after five crashes. The CVSE lifted the ban after the company came up with a "safety action plan."
Chohan Freight Forwarders trucks have been parked in the company's lot since a suspension that followed an overpass crash on Dec. 28. The company wants a judge to lift the suspension. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
But on Dec. 28, "a Chohan-branded truck driven by an owner-operator, Jasveer Sangha, struck the 112 Street overpass on Highway 99 in Delta," the petition reads.
Sangha was supposed to be delivering a load from a metal fabrication plant in Delta, B.C., to Ferndale, Wash. — about 20 kilometres south of the border.
The load was not initially expected to exceed the height limits, which would have required an oversize permit, but the company claims Sangha called to "obtain further instructions" after realizing he was over-height when he picked up the load.
A safety manager told him to wait, but "contrary to the directions he received, Mr. Sangha — apparently at the suggestion of friends ... unassociated with [the company] — decided that the load height was acceptable to travel on Highway 99," the company claims.
"At approximately 12:20 p.m., Mr. Sangha's load hit the 112 St. Overpass."
Millions in losses
According to the petition, Sangha gave a written statement to the CVSE on the day after the crash "in which he accepted full responsibility for failing to follow directions."
The company claims to have fully complied with the CVSE's investigation, which they have been told has concluded. But they say they are still awaiting formal notice.
The Chohan group of companies includes Chohan Freight Forwarders and the Chohan Group. The owners argue the two firms are separate legal entities. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
"As a result of the suspension, [Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd.'s] 63 drivers and affiliated owner-operators, many of whom are the sole income [earners] for their families, became unable to work and suffered (and continue to suffer) corresponding hardship," the petition claims.
The company says losses have exceeded $1 million a week: "Further, it has already lost clients and contacts, including some in the range of $2-3 million in value, along with reputational harm."
The lawsuit is one of two filed by separate arms of the Chohan family-owned trucking empire in recent days.
Chohan Group Ltd. — an Alberta-based company owned by the son of the owner of Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd. — is also suing over claims they were denied oversize permits after the director of the CVSE concluded the two firms were "essentially one operation."
'Separate legal entities'
The court documents describe the two businesses as "separate legal entities" run as "independently-owned fleets, with different employees, drivers … and trucks" but says that "for reasons of cost-saving and efficiency" they work "collaboratively."
Some employees use the same email domain, on occasion, the companies share equipment, and their trucks all have "Chohan" branding. The daughter of the owner of Chohan Freight Forwarders Ltd. also "assists" both companies with their safety policies.
Debris and cargo lie under an overpass following the crash that led to a suspension now being challenged in B.C. Supreme Court. (@alexmosv_m/X)
As a result, the company claims "sensationalized media coverage" erroneously stated the "Chohan Group" was operating in B.C. despite a suspension — when in fact, it was the other Chohan company that had been ordered off the road.
According to the court documents, the Alberta-based Chohan Group was told in mid-January that its oversize permits were on hold pending the investigation into the overpass crash.
The director of the CVSE later concluded that there was no daylight between the two legal entities, informing the Alberta-based Chohan Group that a decision had been made "to ensure that no oversize loads could be hauled by either company while our investigation is underway."
"To be clear, the [Chohan Group] has no 'history' of over-height loads being transported without appropriate permits," the petition reads.
"The [Chohan Group] has not been involved in any infrastructure crashes."
B.C. Premier David 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."
The Chohan Group wants the court to set aside the order refusing the company oversize permits, whereas B.C.-based Chohan Freight Forwarders says it either wants the suspension lifted, or a formal notice of cancellation issued in order to move ahead with an appeal.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.