SALISBURY, N. B. –The following is the conclusion of a three-part cautionary tale about the fate of one trucker who ran afoul of inspection officers in the Maritimes:
The charges brought against Robert Austin on June 7 were essentially as follows: refusing to follow a Peace Officer as directed and to bring his vehicle to a stop, driving past a weigh station when directed to go in, avoiding cargo weighing and continuing to avoid a peace officer who was recognizable as such and who was pursuing him, contrary to and in violation of Section 105.1 of the Motor Vehicle Act of New Brunswick.
There is no question that the CVEOs assigned to deal with Austin’s case on the night of June 7 were armed with considerable regulatory responsibilities.
According to Chrystiane Mallaley, media co-ordinator with the New Brunswick Department of Public Safety, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Officers, appointed as peace officers under Sec 15(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act, are responsible for the enforcement of relevant sections of the following statutes:
The Motor Vehicle Act, the Motor Carrier Act, the Highway Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, and The National Safety Code.
“Failure to comply with an officer’s order pertaining to a specific section of the legislation above for which the officers are responsible (i. e. “Obstruction”) is an offence under the Motor Vehicle Act. CVEOs would work with other law enforcement agencies (local police, RCMP) on issues that are beyond the scope of their direct responsibility,” said Mallaley.
Whether Austin did not have full understanding of the duties and rights of the CVEOs who flagged his truck on the night of June 7, or whether he disputed these and the situation escalated beyond recovery, the eventual outcome in court would decide in his favour, in a way.
Eventually, the judge threw out the charges.
“The judge said what are you doing in my court -didn’t he put his blinker on? He’s a victim of the system,” said Austin’s representative, Tom Barron. “Austin’s employer should have at least waited to see the outcome of the charges. More importantly Department of Public Safety should never have made the call (to the former employer),” said Barron.
While waiting for his court appearance Austin had eventually obtained other, occasional trucking jobs, but felt that the charges pending against him meant that he was always at risk of being hauled in and kept longer at the scales, which he felt had happened to him once too often.
“If you’re only being pulled in to the scale at intervals, okay, but if I can’t get up to that scale without being pulled in, there’s a problem,” he said.
The cost to Austin of that fateful night has been steep. Each court postponement cost Austin $1,000 in lawyer’s fees. His company pension plan, medical and dental insurance are gone. Legal and investigative fees have topped $12,000-plus.
So what did occur in that fateful conversation between Public Safety and Austin’s former employer?
Barron met with New Brunswick Department of Public Safety associate director Ed Peterson. Peterson retired at the end of 2007, but after concluding his conversation with Barron, he provided Barron with a written statement from the New Brunswick Public Safety Compliance head office.
In the conversation, Peterson and Barron discussed the Salisbury West fixed scale facility, and Peterson disputed that there were any technical problems occurring at the scale.
Peterson also addressed the allegation that a representative from the Department of Public Safety called Austin’s company on June 7 to have Austin dismissed.
Peterson confirmed that he was the senior manager of the Road Check blitz during the incident.
In his statement, he said he called Austin’s dispatch on June 7 to provide them an account of the incident with Austin and his refusal to return his tractor-trailer to the Salisbury scale for massing.
According to Peterson, what transpired was that the dispatchers were contacted, and by him alone, and were told of the escalating situation and what they perceived to be Austin’s refusal to cooperate.
He said he asked dispatch to try and contact Austin since he was becoming hostile and aggressive.
Dispatch was asked to explain to Austin the legal requirements of a peace officer’s directive and to try and have him return for massing without further incident. Prior to dispatch being able to contact Austin, he consented to return to the facility.
Peterson said that the allegation that he had contacted Austin’s employer with the statement that if the company didn’t get rid of him it could expect to see an increased number of its trucks hauled over to the scale was untrue.
The whole event brought forth some serious questions. Does a driver who has worked for 25 years and who has won a safe driving award get more of a chance to explain himself, in a situation like Austin’s where both sides said there was escalation, due to misunderstanding, frustration, or some other variable?
How tenuous is a driver’s hold on his job, in the face of allegations he has done something against proper conduct?
“There’s no question that conduct plays a role,” said Barron.
Both Austin and the peace officers involved stated that the situation escalated the night of June 7 to where the RCMP were brought in because of allegations or perceptions on both sides of the threat of assault.
But Austin’s communication with his employer, just following the incident, was through a voice-mail, and his subsequent dismissal came in the form of a letter sent the following day. Was there a massive breach in communication that could have played out differently in the light of day?
“For an employer to act that way in spite of the fact that Austin was found not guilty of any charges, is in breach of employment law. An employer should never take the opportunity to terminate until an actual conviction,” said Barron.
“The courts accepted that the location of the off-ramp wasn’t safe for pulling over – less than 100 yards from where they put their lights on,” he added.
At press time, Austin planned to pursue a constructive discharge suit against his employer, with Barron optimistic that things will play in his favour.
“I see Bob Austin riding at the top of the hill,” Barron told Truck News.
Austin has begun to get some contract work at a towing company, and is slowly building back into a routine, hopefully one that sees things proceed ever smoothly for all involved in the driving and enforcement process.
– If you missed the first two parts of this story, go to Trucknews.com and visit the Print Archives.