Canada Bound?
There be dragons?
Venturing north of the border isn’t like stepping off the edge of the Earth. Trucking in Canada is much the same as in the U.S., with just a few notable exceptions.

By OBAC staff

Editor’s note: This special feature was prepared for Land Line by our friends at the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada. OBAC was formed in 2002. Its executive director is Joanne Ritchie.

Nearly a year ago, the OOIDA board voted on an affiliation with OBAC. This partnership will enable OOIDA to have an increased presence with the Canadian government, which will benefit both our U.S. members who travel to Canada and our Canadian members as well.

Canadian survival guide
I’ll have a double-double. You’re bound to hear some Canadian utter those words sometime during your visit. Or, brown toast. Poutine, too, and smoked meat – if you’re lucky.

You’d be hard-pressed to identify a uniquely Canadian meal, and while a double-double hardly qualifies as a meal, it’s a Canadian staple. We’re talking about a cup of coffee with two creams and two sugars.

You’ll hear those words at what certainly would qualify as a Canadian institution: Tim Hortons – the ubiquitous chain of doughnut shops found all over Canada. While you’re here, be sure to stop and grab a cup or two, and a box of timbits. That’s Canadian for doughnut holes.

If you’re ordering breakfast, and you prefer wheat toast, up here we call it brown toast. Ordering “wheat toast” will earn you a strange look from almost any Canadian server.

And if you’re in Quebec, or anywhere close, you’ll likely be offered a dish of poutine. While it looks like – how shall we say this – previously enjoyed French fries, it’s actually quite good. Poutine is a dish of French fries topped with fresh cheese curds and covered with hot gravy. Wikipedia.com calls poutine the quintessential French-Canadian comfort food.

Quebec also holds the title for the best deli sandwich in the country, called “smoked meat.” Call it the Rolls-Royce of pastrami sandwiches, and beware of imitations found elsewhere in Canada.

nly in Quebec will you find a real smoked meat sandwich – best served with fries and a cola.

While Canada doesn’t have a network of truck stops like the U.S. has, we do have a few chains of full-service stops, and a few independent outlets worthy of note.

You’ll find Husky Travel Centres in the west, Irving Big Stops in the east and Fifth Wheel Travel Centres in Ontario. Flying J has expanded into Canada, with 11 locations open in western and central Canada, and more on the way. Travel Centers of America has one location, so far, in Woodstock, Ontario.

In addition to Tim Hortons, poutine, smoked meat, and moose, there’s another reason to visit Canada – Rodeo du Camion in Notre Dame du Nord, Quebec. It’s absolutely the wildest, most outrageous trucking spectacle you’ll ever witness.

Each summer on the first weekend in August, hundreds of owner-operators pay 50 bucks for a chance to earn the title “King of the Hill” by pulling a loaded set of B-trains – 137,700 pounds – up an eighth-mile, 8-percent grade from a standing start.

There’s nothing like it anywhere. The beer flows freely, the sound system has more watts than all the trucks have horses, and the party goes on for three action-packed days.

Here are a few of the notable Canadian summer truck shows you can still make this year, just in case you find yourself with a little time on your hands.

• Fergus Truck Show, Fergus, Ontario, July 26-29
• Rodeo du Camion, Notre Dame du Nord, Quebec,
Aug. 2-5
• Alberta Big Rig Weekend, Race City Motorsport Park, Calgary, Aug. 25-26

Oscar Wilde once called England and America two countries separated by a common language. His remark speaks to a commonality in the culture, but a difference in the mechanics. The same can be said for contemporary America and Canada – especially from the trucker’s perspective.

While we drive the same trucks, pull the same trailers and use the same engines and transmissions, differences exist within the legal framework that govern how trucking is done north of the 49th parallel.

Mostly, there’s no difficulty moving freight across the border into Canada, and mostly, you’d never know that you had crossed an international border – assuming you survive customs. But, in some circumstances, you could find yourself in hot water for doing nothing more than showing up with the wrong bit of equipment.

Those who’ve been to Canada would admit that we’re a civilized bunch with many of the same customs and practices as the U.S. We drive on the right-hand side of the road; we use knives and forks to eat; we like baseball, football and stock car racing.

But, we don’t live in igloos, ski in July, or pray to pagan idols.

We shop at Wally-Mart, eat at Wendy’s and drive pickup trucks. We have Internet access, satellite radio and cable TV. We have a few pretty good highways, and a lot of goat trails, too. There are a handful of really good truck stops, and lots of Mom-and-Pop places like you’ll find back home. One thing in our favor: we know how to have a good time at a summer truck show.

So, if you’re contemplating a load to Canada, don’t be afraid of what you’ll find at the top of the map. These tips will help you steer clear of trouble.

Customs and practice
For better or worse, the first Canadian you’ll meet is a Customs and Immigration officer at the border. Not renown for their sense of humor or tolerance, these officers can give you a pretty rough ride if you’re not prepared. For what it’s worth, it’s no different for Canadian drivers returning to Canada, or heading south. It’s all business at the border.

We can’t possibly cover all the paperwork and documentation requirements or procedures here – that’s a 10,000-word story in itself. Regarding the load, check with your dispatcher or broker on what to do before heading north, and get your ducks in a row before you get to the border.

You can be refused entry to Canada for no other reason than you’re deemed undesirable. You’d have to work to earn that designation, but given the potential for calamity at customs, you’d best play the game their way.

Customs and Immigration officials on both sides of the border have powers above and beyond most police forces; none of the usual protections and civil liberties apply. They don’t need probable cause or reasonable grounds to conduct even the most invasive of searches – the body cavity search. If they decide they want to search you or your truck, you’ll have little choice but to comply.

While this is an infrequent occurrence, customs officials look for clues that suggest an individual may be trying to hide something. You’ll be asked certain questions and asked if you’re bringing certain things into Canada, such as a firearm. (See the related story “Passing the first test” on Page 57 for a description of some of the more common requirements.)

But, remember, if they suspect you’re trying to slide something past them during the primary inspection, customs officers might take the inspection process to the next level. Honesty is always the best course of action.

Disorganized harmony
The regulatory environment in Canada is different from the U.S. Rather than work from a single set of federal rules governing interstate commerce, each of Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories has its own package of rules governing trucking.

The rules are similar in all jurisdictions, but there are local variations that can be difficult to understand and keep track of – weights and dimensions regulations being the most egregious offenders.

The western provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have regional agreements in place to harmonize many of the rules. So do the eastern provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ontario and Quebec are in a league by themselves, but they also have regional agreements.
Certain American vehicle configurations are unwelcome in different parts of Canada. You’d be advised to check this out before accepting a load to Canada.

For example, tractors with a wheelbase in excess of 6.2 meters (244 inches) aren’t permitted to pull 53-foot trailers anywhere in Canada. Shorter wagons are OK with longer tractors. For example, a 48-footer would be OK with a 265-inch tractor. The maximum allowable length between the trailer kingpin and the center of the tandems is 12.5 meters (41 feet). The overall length limit is 23 meters (75 feet, 6 inches).

Wide-base tires are another issue. Canada has been slow to accept the new tire design out of concern for possible pavement damage. While they’re currently permitted in all provinces and territories, they’re limited in most provinces to 13,200 pounds per axle – significantly less than the 17,000 pounds per axle allowed in the U.S.

The problem for American drivers coming into Canada is that a near-legal-U.S.-weight load on a truck with wide-base tires would be overweight in most Canadian jurisdictions. As of press time, 6,000 kg (about 13,200 pounds) per axle was the limit in the NB, NS, PE, NL, MB, SK, and AB – that’s 26,400 pounds per tandem axle.

British Columbia allows 7,000 kg per axle, or 30,860 pounds per tandem. Ontario and Quebec currently allow 8,000 kg per axle, or 35,270 pounds per tandem axle.

An announcement is expected this summer that would see some or all of the western provinces allow axle weight parity on wide-base tires with the U.S. We’ll keep you posted on that one.

The other sticky issue is the wide tandem. Canada’s western provinces don’t recognize the 10-foot, 2-inch spread, and limit its allowable capacity to the equivalent of a single axle – 20,000 pounds. If you can slide the front axle of the tandem to close it up to no more than 72 inches, you’d be allowed up to 17,000 kg (about 37,400 pounds).

Alberta will allow an unsuspecting American driver one trip into the province under permit to deliver the load, but will not allow a second trip in, nor would you be allowed to reload up to gross before leaving.

All provinces from Ontario eastward presently allow the spread tandem at 20,000 pounds per axle, but the Atlantic provinces are considering phasing them out at the end of 2009.

If there’s any good in all this, it’s that CVSA inspection criteria apply in Canada as well as the U.S., though there are some local variations in some of the charges that might be levied in the event of an infraction. Ontario, for example, will impound a vehicle found to have “critical safety defects” for 15 days for the first offense, and up to 60 days for subsequent offenses within a two-year period.

Common examples of critical defects include 50 percent or more of brakes out of adjustment by a quarter inch, four or more tires found to have no tread remaining across 75 percent or more of the width. Charges of “operating an unsafe vehicle” can be costly, too, as you’re on the hook for all costs associated with the removal, transfer and storage of the load when your rig is impounded.

For more information on Ontario’s commercial vehicle impoundment laws, visit
www.e-laws.gov.on.ca and then type 512/97 into the search field.

Most American drivers won’t have much difficulty operating in Canada, but there are certainly some potholes to be avoided when coming up here. A little advance planning should see you clear on most counts.