CALGARY, Alta. – Calgary police have shut down a city driving school they say has issued hundreds of bogus Class 1 licences to drivers from across the country.
The charges against Delta Driving School were the result of an investigation dubbed “Operation Humbug” launched in July 2004. However, Det. Gord Robertson of the Calgary Police Service, told Truck News the investigation stemmed from intelligence gathered as far back as 2002. The trucking industry itself has been credited with providing valuable information which helped lead to the arrests.
“We got a ton of information,” said Det. Robertson.
The detective said it all started with analytical information generated from people within government who were directly involved in issuing Class 1 licences.
The investigation gained steam thanks to tips provided to Crime Stoppers and continued to snowball when confidential informants came forward. Graduates of the school also helped out with the investigation, along with a former employee of Delta Driving School. Police were able to confirm their suspicions and swoop in on the training facility after two undercover officers attended the school themselves, Det. Robertson said.
Charged with forgery of documents and breach of public office are: Delta head instructor, Jaswant Singh, and Dr. Gurdip Bhullar (accused of providing drivers with fake medical examinations). But the charges won’t end there, Det. Robertson said.
He said Alberta Registries investigators will be revoking the licence of at least one driver examiner. And as Truck News went to press, police expected to lay charges against the owner of the school, two business managers and possibly other driver examiners as well (all driver examiners in the province of Alberta are independent contractors).
“This will be a wide case net when it’s done,” the detective said.
The alleged scam worked this way: Delta advertised extensively in ethnic newspapers across Canada.
“Their method of operation was to advertise in ethnic newspapers – they were specifically drawing an East Indian and Middle Eastern type clientele,” Det. Robertson told Truck News.
Students then attended classes at Delta Driving School in Calgary, where they were allegedly fast-tracked through the licensing process. Along the way, Robertson suggests they were encouraged to cheat, and for written tests some were reportedly even given pencils with an answer key etched into the side.
In many cases medical examinations were completed without so much as a blood pressure test, said Det. Robertson. And the mandatory air brake training was all but non-existent, he added.
Students then forked over $1,500 to $2,500 in cash – above and beyond the costs normally associated with obtaining a Class 1 licence, according to the detective.
Most of the students were from outside Alberta, according to police.
“All of our information indicates the majority of the students came from out of the province – primarily B.C. and Ontario – and they were coming out here to swap their out-of-province Class 5 to an Alberta Class 5, upgrade it to a Class 1 in a short period of time and return to their province of origin to flip it back,” explained Det. Robertson.
A reciprocity agreement between the provinces allows drivers to convert their licence from one province to another with no questions asked. While you must have an Alberta address to obtain a driver’s licence in the province, people associated with Delta “own a number of residences in Calgary and (allegedly) provided fabricated lease agreements,” said the detective.
Hundreds of drivers may have obtained their licences in this manner, many of whom were employed by the same carriers, according to police. But oddly enough, many of these drivers may never have gotten behind the wheel and shifted their first gear.
“All the information we’ve gathered indicates the…majority of untrained and unskilled Class 1 drivers probably aren’t getting behind the wheel,” the detective said. “Our understanding is that there are at least two companies in the Lower Mainland (of B.C.) that are knowingly hiring Class 1 holders they know can’t drive to do log-splitting on the long hauls.”
He adds a valid Class 1 licence holder will typically drive the truck while three or four drivers who have obtained their licence illegitimately go along for the ride in the sleeper berth and fill out the logs in such a manner that suggests they’re sharing the driving duty.
“Take your choice,” Det. Robertson said. “What you have is one extremely fatigued driver that can drive, or someone behind the wheel that can’t. What’s worse?”
Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation has been involved in the investigation from the get-go, and has been actively tracking down individuals who obtained their Class 1 licence from the accused school.
“Our Special Investigations Unit initiated (the investigation) and the Calgary Police then joined in and assisted us,” said the department’s director of communications, Bart Johnson. Since the arrests were made, Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation has contacted drivers who obtained their licences through the alleged licensing mill and those drivers are now required to take a re-test.
“We’ve been able to determine who got training and who received their licences through Delta and as a result we’ve been able to track those people down both in this province and those who may have been from out of province to begin with and we’re calling for retests with those people,” Johnson told Truck News.
The re-tests are mandatory and if drivers don’t take the test within 15 days, their licence will be revoked, Johnson said. When Truck News went to press, only two of 26 drivers residing in Alberta had agreed to a re-test. One of the two failed.
The results weren’t so encouraging in B.C., where more than 100 drivers who went through Delta Driving School were re-tested in the days following the bust.
“All the drivers failed the re-test,” said Moira Wellwood, spokeswoman for the Insurance Corp. of B.C.
Although drivers who knowingly obtained their Class 1 licences through Delta illegally have committed a crime, Det. Robertson said it’s unlikely any of them will be charged.
“Although the student is likely knowingly perpetrating a fraud, we would have a difficult time gaining the evidence to meet the threshold for a criminal charge,” the detective said. “There’s an offence being committed there, but it’s pretty difficult to prove with the students.”
Alberta has been accused in the past of being too easy on prospective Class 1 licence holders. Until 2003, student drivers weren’t even required to couple and uncouple a trailer or perform a full pre-trip inspection during the driving test. But industry insiders were reluctant to lay blame for the alleged scam against the province and its procedures.
“What can you do?” asked Mayne Root, director of compliance and regulatory affairs with the Alberta Motor Transport Association. “Every time there’s a system in place, there’s someone out there trying to circumvent it. If we could have anything, I wish that they would hire more of the guys that deal with the driving schools. They are doing the best they can with what they have but I wish there were more guys out there.”
Emmet Callaghan, owner of CCA Truck Driving Training Ltd. in Calgary, was quick to point out similar charges have been laid against schools in other provinces as well.
“Obviously the system is working,” he said, noting that the charges Delta faces can be seen as encouraging. “As long as the government monitors the current system, this shouldn’t happen again. Part of their mandate is to monitor everyone.”
Callaghan just hopes the front page headlines splashed across the mainstream daily newspapers don’t send the wrong message to the public.
“There are lots of us out here working hard and doing a good job,” he pointed out.
And that’s a message that’s being stressed by police, go
vernment and industry figures alike.
While Det. Robertson said the investigation continues and several other Alberta training schools are currently under the microscope, he stressed the problem is not “widespread.”
That’s a point that’s re-iterated by provincial spokesman, Johnson.
“The government is pleased with the system we have now which has been in place for a dozen years and we have no plans to overhaul the system,” he said. “Any system – however it’s set up – can be abused and we’re not going to change the entire system because there’s alleged abuse. We need to find out where there’s abuse and do something about it and that’s what we’re doing. We’re satisfied the vast majority of driving schools and examiners are running above board.”
As this issue of Truck News went to press, Delta Driving School was closed for business and calls to the school went unanswered. The City of Calgary had just permanently revoked Delta’s business licence, although city officials said they expected Delta to appeal the decision.
Robertson, who briefed city officials about the investigation the night before talking to Truck News, said “I can tell you I’m quite confident they’ll be out of business permanently.”
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