by BRIAN LOCKHART
A Norfolk County farmer plans to fight provincial convictions concerning a pick-up truck he's modified for farm use and is appealing to farm groups for help.
On April 1, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld seven convictions against Peter VanBerlo under the Highway Traffic Act and added two more under the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act.
VanBerlo insists his vehicle met Ministry of Transportation requirements relating to a “self-propelled implement of husbandry.”
The Ministry of Transportation charged VanBerlo under the two Acts after officials stopped his modified pick-up truck in August 2006. The truck was towing irrigation pipes. One of VanBerlo’s employees was driving. Charges included not having plates on a vehicle and not having insurance.
The original 2008 Ontario Court of Justice decision resulted in convictions for VanBerlo for the seven charges under the Highway Traffic Act but acquitted him of the two counts under the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act. The April 2010 decision upheld the Highway Traffic Act charges and added convictions for the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act charges.
Court of Appeal judges ruled that the vehicle “is a pick-up truck which is now better able to be used in farm fields for farm tasks but it is still fully capable of being operated on a highway.”
The court’s written decision acknowledges a provision under the Highway Traffic Act that permits “self-propelled implement of husbandry,” but rules that VanBerlo’s vehicle “never lost its true character of being a pick-up truck.”
Had they found the truck to be a farm husbandry vehicle, none of the charges would apply, VanBerlo says.
The modifications on the 1976 model truck, VanBerlo says, were “obviously intended to create a working farm vehicle.”
He says he spent $16,000 to adapt it for transporting farm equipment. The modifications included a diesel engine, heavy-duty hitch, large tread snow tires, and conversion to four-wheel drive.
“Who in their right mind would take a 30-year-old vehicle and put $16,000 into it if they weren’t building it for a specific use? And I tried to explain that to them (ministry officials).”
VanBerlo says he checked farm regulations before modifying the truck so he would comply with regulations. But most of the changes were under the hood and ministry officers did not look under the hood.
If they make a law and give you the guidelines and you follow them with good intentions, “how can they turn around and fine you when they don’t understand what you did?” he asks.
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has published a guide for farm vehicles on the highway that defines farm equipment rules.
“If someone is using a vehicle but they are wondering if they can use it on the road for other purposes without a license, they should definitely consult that guide,” says John Goudy, a lawyer with Cohen Highley LLP in London, Ontario.
If they aren’t satisfied after reading the guide that they are in compliance with the Act, Goudy recommends calling the Ministry.
VanBerlo says his fight isn’t over, and it’s not just about the fines, which, combined, amount to thousands of dollars. He’s also racked up $30,000 in legal fees.
He calls the convictions “totally unreasonable.”
He has appealed to several groups including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture for help.
“I’m disappointed in the courts,” he says. BF