Illegal ride hailing underway in B.C. while government reconsiders laws

By Linda Givetash

THE CANADIAN PRESS

VANCOUVER _ As the British Columbia government explores the impact of allowing ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, a number of companies have already been operating illegally in the province.

The Passenger Transportation Branch said at least seven app platforms are known to be in use by drivers and consumers in Metro Vancouver.

An advisory issued by the branch last fall said the drivers, not the app developers, are assuming the risks of running an unlicensed commercial transit service and face fines of $1,150.

Branch director Kristin Vanderkuip told an all-party legislature committee meeting in Vancouver on Monday that $12,650 in fines have been issued to illegal drivers to date. Some of the services have been found in the Victoria area as well, she said.

The branch is trying to educate consumers about the risks of using unlicensed ride-hailing services, she said.

Ted Townsend, communications director for the City of Richmond, said Tuesday it’s difficult to tell how many drivers or services are involved and their exact location because they’re organized online and transcend city boundaries.

Municipalities can’t provide business licences to drivers or app providers because there is no legal framework for them, he said in an interview.

Officials are responding to the issue as they would with any business operating without a licence, he said, but identifying drivers is a challenge.

“It’s difficult to obtain the type of evidence and information that would be required in many cases to take action,” he said. “They’re not bricks-and-mortar type of operations so it’s hard to establish exactly where they’re operating, where they’re based.”

Townsend said a provincial framework around ride-hailing businesses, which the government is exploring through hearings this week, will help cities do their part in licensing or prohibiting services.

In the meantime, he said Richmond is working with the Transportation Ministry and neighbouring cities to crack down on illegal ride-hailing.

The ministry said it has received complaints about the unlicensed companies and has several ongoing investigations.

The Passenger Transportation Branch has issued more than 20 cease and desist orders to vehicle owners across the province, it said.

The ministry warned drivers and consumers about the risks associated with the companies.

“The driver is subject to all penalties for operating illegally on the road the driver is subject to all penalties for operating illegally on the road _ and they are subject to fines of $1,150, as well as further penalties for not disclosing the commercial use of their vehicles to their insurance provider,” it said in an emailed statement.

“Customers need to know that if they choose to get a ride through these apps they are choosing to take a trip in a vehicle that has not been licensed to operate legally and safely in B.C.”

Government of Canada removes processing fee to hire foreign caregivers

When live-in caregiving is more affordable for Canadians who need it most, families can spend less time worrying about finances and more time with their loved ones.

That’s why today, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, announced the elimination of the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) processing fee for middle class families seeking to hire foreign caregivers for children, and all families seeking caregivers for individuals requiring assistance due to a physical or mental condition.

Achieving the Minister’s mandate letter commitment to eliminate the $1000 LMIA processing fee for certain families and individuals will support those most in need of financial assistance to meet their family caregiving needs and responsibilities.

Quote

Our government knows that Canadians deserve better access to care for their loved ones. Waiving the LMIA fee will help put care within reach of more Canadian families.
– The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

Quick Facts

  • To provide financial relief to families or individuals seeking to hire foreign caregivers, the Government of Canada is eliminating the $1000 per position LMIA fee for the following two groups:
    • individuals seeking to hire foreign caregivers to provide in-home support for themselves or for another individual (for example, mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend), who requires assistance due to a physical or mental condition; and
    • families or individuals with less than $150,000 in gross annual household income seeking to hire foreign caregivers to provide childcare in their home to a child or children under 13 years of age.
  • In April 2017, the Government of Canada set a path forward for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, including fulfilling its commitment to better protect vulnerable foreign workers. This included a commitment to work with community organizations devoted to protecting vulnerable temporary foreign workers to ensure they are informed of their rights and protections when they arrive in Canada.
  • To qualify for the LMIA processing fee exemption for individuals requiring assistance due to a physical or mental condition, a medical certificate from a treating medical practitioner attesting to their condition will be required at the time the application is submitted.

Associated Links

SOURCE Employment and Social Development Canada

N.B. proposes insurance changes to ensure domestic violence victims are covered

New Brunswick is moving to ensure people have insurance coverage if their home is damaged in domestic violence cases.

Finance Minister Cathy Rogers says most home insurance policies exclude payment for loss or damage caused intentionally by anyone insured by the policy.

She says that can hurt spouses if one of them deliberately sets fire or damages the property.

The proposed Insurance Act amendments would prevent insurance companies from using exclusions to deny coverage in such cases and allow victims to receive their share of compensation.

The changes were developed with the Office of the Consumer Advocate for Insurance, the Financial and Consumer Services Commission and the Women’s Equality Branch.

Commission CEO Rick Hancox says the changes would bring New Brunswick in line with several other provinces and reduce the financial loss to people experiencing intimate partner violence.

 

Great plate fight: Saskatchewan, Alberta tussle over job site licence plates

Alberta promised a court fight and mocked Saskatchewan’s lagging economy following a move by its neighbour to the east to ban Alberta licence plates on future job sites.

“(Saskatchewan Premier) Brad Wall needs to smarten up, and he has one week to kill this ridiculous restriction, or we’re going to be taking him to court,” Alberta Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous said Wednesday.

Bilous said Saskatchewan’s move violates interprovincial free trade rules.

“Brad Wall is absolutely desperate,” Bilous said.

“We know our economy is growing by four per cent. Their economy is in the dumps, so he’s grasping at straws.”

Earlier Wednesday, December 6, 2017 Saskatchewan Infrastructure Minister David Marit announced that vehicles with Alberta licence plates will no longer be allowed on future government highway and building project sites. Existing projects will not be affected.

The ban includes contractors, sub-contractors, consultants and workers. Ministry staff will enforce the provision through job-site monitoring.

Marit said the ban is in response to reports from Saskatchewan workers who say they face similar restrictions in Alberta.

“Saskatchewan operators feel forced to register their vehicles in Alberta if they want to do business there,” said Marit. “Today’s (12/06/2017) announcement just levels the playing field.”

Bilous said there are no such restrictions in Alberta on out-of province workers or licence plates.

Alberta officials said there were no prior discussions or advance warning of the change from Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association lauded the move.

“Saskatchewan heavy construction contractors have been one of the largest employers in the province in good years and in bad,” association president Shantel Lipp said in a release.

“As local construction companies obtain a larger share of the Saskatchewan construction marketplace, they develop the people, equipment and capacity to maximize their economies of scale.”

The plate feud is the latest cross-boundary sniping between Wall’s right-of-centre government and Premier Rachel Notley’s left-leaning NDP.

Wall’s government has previously complained about new rules to assist Alberta’s craft brewers that Saskatchewan calls unfair to out-of-province beer producers.

 

Ontario changing auto insurance system; aiming to tackle fraud, lower rates

Ontario is cracking down on what it calls rampant auto insurance fraud, saying it will lead to rate cuts for the province’s 10 million drivers.

Auto insurance rates are a thorny issue for the Liberal government, which is still trying to deliver on a promise it made to cut rates by 15 per cent on average from 2013 levels.

The government said Tuesday, December 5, 2017 that it will develop standard treatment plans for common collision injuries such as sprains and whiplash, create independent and neutral examination centres to provide medical assessments for more serious injuries, and ensure that contingency fees set by lawyers are fair and transparent.

The plan would also establish a Serious Fraud Office, staffed in part by officers from the Ontario Provincial Police, to tackle abuse in the system.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa, who announced the measures with Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, said the cost of auto insurance fraud is estimated to be as high as $1.6 billion a year. By cracking down on abuse, and holding people accountable, the government can achieve a “substantive rate reduction,” he said.

“Auto insurance fraud has become an industry,” Sousa said. “It’s time to stop it. If you know someone who has been engaged in this crime let the Serious Fraud Office know. They will pursue and investigate these fraudsters and bring them to justice.”

Sousa said the new measures will ensure accident victims receive appropriate care and are assessed independently by health professionals with no ties to an insurer. He could not immediately say what the plan will cost taxpayers or if it sets a specific rate reduction target.

Sousa also urged insurance firms to take action against fraudsters.

“If an insurance company, if the industry is telling us that there’s abuse, there’s fraud in the system, then stop settling,” he said. “Stop settling fraud cases and let’s start attacking the fraud and prosecuting the crime.”

A government-commissioned report earlier this year found that Ontario has the most expensive auto insurance premiums in Canada despite also having one of the lowest levels of accidents and fatalities.

The average auto insurance premium in Ontario is $1,458, which is almost 55 per cent higher than the average of all other Canadian jurisdictions, the report found. If Ontario’s premiums were closer to the Canadian average of about $930, it would save Ontario drivers almost 40 per cent _ or about $4 billion a year, it said.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as the Liberal government is still trying to fulfill a promise to reduce rates by 15 per cent on average from 2013 levels _ rates have now decreased on average by about eight per cent since then. The government missed its self-imposed deadline of August 2015 to hit that target and Premier Kathleen Wynne has admitted that was a “stretch goal.”

Insurance company Aviva Canada said if the government implements its new measures, it will help lower rates. The company estimates fraud costs the insurance system $2 billion a year, nearly half a million more than the government estimates, said vice-president Gord Rasbach.

“If you address the fraud piece you will make an impact on rates,” he said. “Fraud, at the end of the day, someone has to pay for it. It really comes down to people who are milking the system (at the expense) of a lot more people who are paying and are honest.”

The opposition Progressive Conservatives said the Liberals are only acting on insurance rates now because an election is less than six months away.

“Auto insurance premiums are still 55 per cent higher than other Canadian jurisdictions,” PC finance critic Vic Fedeli said. “Four years ago this government promised a 15 per cent cut … They have completely bungled this file.”

NDP finance critic John Vanthof, who noted the government plan to cut rates doesn’t set a target, was doubtful the plan will result in a reduction of costs for Ontario drivers.

“They actually haven’t talked about how much their new stretch goal for insurance going down (is),” he said. “They’ve talked about measures they want to take but there is no back-up documentation for that.”

 

B.C. sets minimum age of 19 to consume marijuana, plans mix of retail sales

British Columbia has become the latest province to lay out its plan for regulating recreational marijuana, announcing that pot sales will be allowed through both public and private stores to buyers who are at least 19 years old.

B.C. is following other provinces in keeping the age of consumption, purchase and possession of marijuana consistent with alcohol and tobacco laws, which Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said Tuesday will more effectively protect young people and eliminate the black market.

“We know that the largest consumers of cannabis are young people,” Farnworth said when asked about evidence from health experts on the danger of cannabis on the developing brains of people older than 19.

“If you set it too high, for example at 25, you’re not going to get rid of the black market because they’re going to go and get it elsewhere.”

The federal government intends to legalize non-medical cannabis in July. B.C.’s announcement follows a public consultation period that received submissions from nearly 50,000 residents and 141 local and Indigenous governments.

The B.C. Liberals pressed the government to act quickly on the questions that remain about how pot will be sold and where.

“This should not be seen as a profit centre for government and any extra revenue should be redirected to enforcement and addiction services,” Liberal legislature member Mike Morris said in a statement,

Farnworth released few details about retail sales, beyond saying both public and private vendors will be allowed. He was unable to comment on online sales or whether current marijuana dispensaries would be able to apply for licences to continue operating after legalization.

The government expects to release details of its retail model towards the end January or the beginning of February, he said.

Work also remains to be done on whether people will be allowed to grow plants at home for personal use, a practice that has been banned by Manitoba over concerns about enforcement. Manitoba also released its plans for overseeing marijuana sales on Tuesday.

B.C.’s public consultation produced a report that was released alongside its announcement Tuesday. It revealed polarized views on drug-impaired driving, showing that some want zero tolerance while others said cannabis doesn’t impact the ability to drive.

The report also says there was some confusion among consultation participants on the distribution and retails sales of marijuana, but many opposed Ontario’s model. Ontario intends to sell the drug in up to 150 stores run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and ban consumption in public spaces or workplaces.

“Most of these individuals preferred to see the existing dispensaries and their supply chain legitimized, licensed and regulated,” the report says.

It also says two points emerged on public consumption: People don’t want to be subjected to second-hand smoke in public places and they want cannabis consumption limited to indoor use at a private residence or a designated space.

 

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