Advertisement

Transport Canada extended deadlines imposed to address safety weaknesses

Workers comb through the debris after a train derailed causing explosions of railway cars carrying crude oil Tuesday, July 9, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Que.
Workers comb through the debris after a train derailed causing explosions of railway cars carrying crude oil Tuesday, July 9, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Que. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Transport Canada quietly changed some deadlines it had set to address weaknesses in its oversight of the transportation of dangerous goods.

The weaknesses were initially unveiled in a damning audit from the federal environment commissioner, published in December 2011. Transport Canada agreed with the audit and its recommendations at the time, committing to address the concerns.

The commitments were grouped into five broad categories, and each carried a self-imposed deadline ranging from January 2012 to April 2013.

As of today, commitments in three of those categories had yet to be fulfilled.

One such commitment, now on track for completion in June 2014 — two years after the original deadline — is clarifying roles and responsibilities of Transport Canada employees involved in inspecting dangerous goods.

READ MORE: Watchdog called for stricter rules in transporting dangerous goods

“Transport Canada continues to work toward addressing the findings of the report,” a department spokeswoman wrote in an emailed response.

Story continues below advertisement

“Some recommendations require more time to implement than others, which is why the Office of the Auditor General (under which the environment commissioner operated) has granted the department an extension to the self-imposed deadlines.”

The Auditor General’s Office did not immediately respond to questions of how common it is for a department to shift its deadlines in response to their audits.

In his warning, then-environment commissioner Scott Vaughan cautioned that public safety is increasingly at risk because of a failure on the government’s part to provide and enforce sufficient oversight of transporting dangerous goods — including oil — by road, rail, air and ship.

READ MORE: Crude awakening: a Global News series on oil

Even at the time of the commissioner’s 2011 report, the faults he identified were not new. “Many of the weaknesses we found in Transport Canada were identified more than five years ago and have yet to be fixed,” he wrote at the time.

Weaknesses Vaughan identified include the fact that Transport Canada lacks the means to determine the extent to which companies transporting dangerous goods obey rules for safely shipping them, and whether compliance is getting better or worse from year to year.

He also found the federal department did not offer inspectors clear guidelines for collecting evidence and handling potential violations.

Story continues below advertisement

Although Transport Canada missed its initial deadlines, a spokeswoman now says the department is on schedule to meet its new deadlines, the latest of which is now June 2014.

Below is a status report on all commitments made following the commissioner’s, according to a document emailed from Transport Canada.

Activity #1: Develop and implement a national risk-based inspection process

Commitment: Complete the risk assessment to serve as a basis for inspection schedules.

Original deadline: January 2012.

Status: Complete.

Commitment: Train managers and inspectors on this.

Original deadline: April 2012.

Status: Completed.

Activity #2: Document compliance monitoring and follow-up procedures

Commitment: Strengthen compliance monitoring guidelines and tools, document follow-up process.

Original deadline: June 2012.

Status: Completed.

Commitment: Train managers and inspectors on this.

Original deadline: October 2012.

Status: Completed.

Commitment: Introduce a quality assurance program.

Original deadline: April 2013.

Revised deadline: April 2014.

Story continues below advertisement

Status: On track.

Activity #3: Clarify roles and responsibilities for dangerous goods inspections within Transport Canada

Commitment: Clarify roles and responsibilities of the various groups involved in the inspection of dangerous goods.

Original deadline: June 2012.

Revised deadline: June 2014.

Status: On track.

Activity #4: Develop a system in order to be able to measure and report on compliance with laws regulating the transportation of dangerous goods

Commitment: Update and implement the system.

Original deadline: December 2012.

Revised deadline: June 2014.

Status: On track.

Activity #5: Review the Emergency Response Assistance Plan Program’s policies and procedures

Commitment: Review the program’s policies for approvals.

Deadline: June 2012.

Status: Completed.

Commitment: Enhance guidelines for staff.

Deadline: December 2012:

Status: Completed.

Commitment:  Train management and employees.

Deadline: April 2013:

Status: Completed.