CALGARY, Alta. & TORONTO, Ont. – As promised earlier this year by National Revenue Minister, Elinor Caplan, shippers, carriers and brokers were given a chance to grade the Administrative Monetary Penalty System (AMPS) during a whirlwind tour of 10 Canadian cities in seven days.
Halifax, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Fort Erie, Windsor, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver were all visited by Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) officials who set out to gauge public opinion of the penalty regime.
On June 18, Truck News caught up with two of those sessions, being held simultaneously in Calgary and Toronto.
In Calgary, about 34 people showed up at the AMPS consultation, making it the best-attended meeting to date.
Robert Blake, a senior project officer with CCRA, was on hand to help run the meeting.
He was impressed with the turnout and the quality of the discussion throughout the day.
“The feedback today was respectful and appreciative, but they were convinced that there is room for improvement,” Blake said, following the meeting.
“Overall it was a very positive session with a good number of good proposals and suggestions and comments. It was definitely worth our being here.”
For the most part, discussions focused on the penalties themselves and how they are applied to various offenders.
Attendees wanted to see some improvements that would result in the punishment better fitting the crime.
For instance, many attendees felt a carrier that commits a minor violation on a $50 crate of oranges shouldn’t be fined the same amount as a carrier that makes the same mistake on a load worth $100,000.
Carriers in attendance (most of whom asked not to be identified) did voice a number of other concerns as well, many of which were alleviated by Blake and his colleague David Flanagan, the CCRA representative responsible for collecting comments and presenting them to Caplan.
One Calgary attendee said he’s concerned that with the newfound revenue generated by AMPS, there may be pressure to increase enforcement down the road to maintain a consistent influx of money, even when carriers wise up to AMPS and commit fewer offences.
“We should see the (number of offences) go down, but my fear is that that budget expectation is going to remain, causing CCRA to be more aggressive in enforcement to maintain that budget expectation,” he said.
Flanagan assured him that won’t be the case.
“We (CCRA) don’t get a penny of that money,” Flanagan said. “So it’s not in our interest to do that. You’re going to have fewer people making mistakes but you’re still going to have new carriers and importers coming in. But it’s definitely going to downtrend.”
Another concern voiced from the floor was about the impact AMPS penalties will have on the consumer.
“The consumer, at the very end, is going to be paying more,” said a concerned carrier representative. “Not right away, but in two to three years when all of these penalties start kicking in.”
The speaker said carriers will have no choice but to build the increased operating costs presented by AMPS into the cost of service, which will then be reflected in the costs of goods on store shelves.
Another worry raised by a carrier in attendance was that a reputable carrier could end up acquiring a shoddy carrier, and then be stuck with its poor AMPS record.
However, Flanagan said carriers must be aware of this before making an acquisition or else “Your due diligence wasn’t due enough.”
He added: “You’re looking in the wrong direction for concessions on that one.”
Some carriers also suggested AMPS records be tracked by division rather than by carrier.
That way if one branch of a carrier racks up a number of penalties, it won’t affect the record of a different branch of the fleet, which may go to greater lengths to ensure it’s in compliance.
Meanwhile in Toronto, there were a dozen or so attendees at the consultation.
The general consensus among those who did attend was there should be room for human error because clerical mistakes will inevitably occur and those offences shouldn’t be punished as harshly as those committed by repeat offenders.
“There are random errors for whatever reason – training maybe – they are trained to not make an error but they do because they’re human. But we should have the ability to come to you with a business case to prove it’s a true clerical error and show you the steps taken that allowed us to arrive at that point. But we don’t have this option today,” one attendee told the CCRA.
“I believe whole-heartedly in the AMPS program but there has to be a relief valve for error, because they are inevitable.”
That statement struck a chord with others in attendance, including one person who stated “Human errors occur once – if it is a systemic error, it will happen over and over again. So there should be a substantial penalty that applies to the systemic error in order to get their attention but there should be some tolerance for human errors, and records should be kept clean for those people.”
Another person in attendance at the Toronto meeting called upon CCRA to provide an ombudsman who could review complaints and decide whether some infractions were the fault of Canada Customs itself.
In Calgary, Flanagan was kept busy taking notes that will be part of the report he files for the minister, which is due by Labour Day.
Flanagan’s counterpart in Ontario, Ken McCarthy, director for the AMPS division of CCRA, did likewise.
He too was pleased with the feedback that was provided during the tour.
“We will take these comments back to Ottawa, and…spend the summer analyzing what components need to be changed. We are happy to hear what (people) have had to say,” said McCarthy.
“Some of these contraventions are being questioned by industry and we are doing the same – that is what we are really trying to do here. We have to establish what the harm is that is being done by that particular contravention.”
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