Bureaucratic Inertia

February 1st, 2015

On June 5th, 2009, two men walked onto the property of a private residence on Millar Ave. in Saskatoon.  They had instructions to remove the safety labelling affixed to a residential building.  This wasn’t a foreclosure, there were no banks involved, and it wasn’t sanctioned by local police.  Rather, it was part of a much larger raid taking place on private properties all across the Province, it was a scheme to remove evidence.  The two men were from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

Thousands of modular buildings have been imported into Canada during the last fifteen years.  Some of these are residential buildings, others are field units for the energy sector, and some are akin to construction trailers at job sites.  In order to import these buildings, each of them must be certified as compliant with Canadian building regulations.  Certifications are like a passports, they let products cross the border and that’s why they’re so valuable.  So who do you suppose does the certifying?  That’s right, the CSA does.

But they don’t.  That is, they don’t ensure compliance.  Saskatchewan’s imported buildings that CSA had certified as compliant are profoundly noncompliant.  They don’t meet the most minimum safety requirements under the building Code and, as a result, the buildings can’t legally be sold or exported. 

So that’s why CSA sent two lackeys to de-label?  Actually, no.  Faked testing and unsafe products are bad enough, but there’s an even dirtier problem here. 

The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) is the regulatory body through which the CSA reports to Industry Canada.  On August 9, 2010, the SCC wrote as follows; “Following an in-depth file review, we concluded that CSA’s scope of accreditation as a certification organization does not include the ICS code 91:040:99 for modular homes certification to CSA A277.”  Or, more simply, the CSA had no authority to certify these buildings.

That’s the dirtier problem, the CSA was selling large numbers of certifications that had no legal standing.  These certifications looked like the real thing, they got the buildings across the border.  But they’re not real.  The CSA had no authority to sell these certifications, yet they sold them to purchasers as though the certifications were authentic.  That activity, folks, is called counterfeiting.

The SCC continued; “Based on our findings and conclusion, CSA is required to cease certifying and marking modular homes for the Canadian marketplace, without the requisite accreditation.”  Further, “remedial action is also required […] to address the [CSA’s] incorrect claims of accredited certification.”  And finally; “This will conclude our investigation”.

These statements were made by the SCC’s Bill Thoms and bear a signature stamp of August 10th, 2010 at 5:01pm.  It seems that this was the last item of his workday.

Earlier that same day, however, the CSA was listed as fully accredited to certify “products that meet the standards classified by the following international coding: 91:040:99.”  That’s exactly the accreditation that Bill Thoms said didn’t exist.

Moving on, about two weeks later, on August 24th, 2010 the CSA wrote to a different customer, stating that “CSA International identified a listing omission in the scope of its accreditation […] in relation to modular homes.”  The problem here is that CSA was caught selling certifications illegally and their response was that their violation of law was merely a “listing omission.”  That is, the only problem was that CSA wasn’t allowed to do it.  But doing something you’re not allowed to do is the basic definition of crime.  So, is violating the law a big deal?  Well, “CSA International believes that the listing omission is a result of a minor error that occurred in 2002”. 

Let’s think about this.  Other crimes happen every day.  Rape for instance, is a serious crime.  How would you respond to a rapist who tried to minimize his crime by claiming that sex happens every day, no problem, it’s just that this particular girl hadn’t given permission for sex.  His only crime was that he wasn’t allowed to do it.  He’s sure she’d have been fine with sex had she gotten to know him.  So it’s no big deal, permission is a minor matter, a listing omission, a technicality dividing the similar terms of “sex” and “rape” which describe, really, the same thing.  Right?

But the minimizing continues.  Said the CSA; “we believe the listing omission is a result of an administrative error only and that this does not affect the safety or conformity of modular homes certified by CSA International.”  Well, the CSA’s “administrative error” resulted in the bankruptcies of private businesses, and that’s not a minor matter.  And the “safety and conformity of modular homes” was also badly compromised by CSA applying their counterfeit certifications to modular units that didn’t conform to safety laws at all.

Then the CSA reassures the recipient that “the concerns identified by SCC only apply to units manufactured after 2002.”  Recall that this letter is dated August 24, 2010.  That’s nearly a decade of “only applying” to every modular building that they certified.

The CSA closes their curious letter by stating that the CSA is “maintaining its accreditation” and “is working closely with the SCC to complete a full discovery…..”  But you’ll recall that the SCC letter announced the “conclusion” of its investigation two weeks previous, how could the CSA be “working closely” with the SCC in an investigation that’s already concluded?  And worse, the SCC letter advised that the “CSA is not accredited by SCC to conduct modular homes certification”.  This would be the same accreditation that the CSA is now “maintaining”?  But through all of this, you “can continue to have trust in CSA International.” 

Alright, the CSA was caught and the SCC is stuck sorting it out.  Under article 6.6 of the SCC’s 2012 regulations, they are obligated to “initiate its process for withdrawal of accreditation” of the CSA.  Unfortunately, however, this article was added after the crimes took place and the previous version required no suspensions.  In other words, while accreditation covering all of CSA’s certifications would be revoked today (in theory, if you trust the SCC), in 2010 the SCC had the option of doing nothing.  And they did.

The CSA suffered no penalties at all and the SCC immediately served notice that it intended to reaccredit the CSA for modular buildings.  That new accreditation process required a full public review of at least 90 days.  The SCC announced that the public had until December 20th, 2010 to submit their views.

On September 30th, barely 30 days into the 90 day public review, the SCC reaccredited the CSA.  Nobody in these Industry Canada entities appears to respect the laws of public review.  As one businesswoman ranted; “How did the CSA successfully be granted certification on September 30, 2010 when no appeal meeting had been and still hasn’t been heard, or even a date set?  As well, objections to the certification deadline of Dec. 20, 2010 hasn’t even arrived.”  Quite so.

The SCC can’t figure what the fuss is all about.  Said the SCC’s Chantal Marin-Comeau; “Currently, the SCC’s position is that the CSA was accredited [for modular units] until 2002.  We then reaccredited them in September 2010.”

And that was September 30th, right?  Maybe not.  The SCC claimed a September 30th reaccreditation to one complainant, but later adjusted it to September 16th.  Then the SCC’s Bill Thoms contradicted that date too and furnished September 29th instead. 

This is quite a muck, isn’t it?  You can probably tell through all this that the CSA was caught counterfeiting, then minimizing it, the SCC was caught trying to grease the application process for CSA, then they broke the public review law, and then both were caught rigging the accreditations process in their favour.  Then the SCC’s CEO got involved.

John Walters is the CEO of the Standards Council of Canada.  He’s also the former EVP of Standards for the CSA.  It’s probably a coincidence.  Anyway, on January 31, 2011, Walters furnished an explanation for the mucky conduct described above.  He had several points.  First, he claimed that “I’m not an expert in conformity assessment, accreditation or certification.”  That’s odd, given that he leads a “conformity assessment, accreditation and certification” body.  Then he affirms that “I can explain my reasons for taking the action that I did”.  And here they are:

“The Appeal Board [of the SCC] found that the SCC had been wrong to state that CSA was deficient in its accredited certification capability during the period 2002 through August 2010.  Consistent with their mandate to provide me with a recommendation, the Appeal Board recommended that this decision be reversed.  I accepted this decision with one important caveat.” 

The caveat in question was that the SCC hadn’t been auditing the CSA for the counterfeiting period.  Therefore, the SCC maintains that the CSA was not accredited for modulars from 2002 - 2010.  Yet by “accepting” that the CSA was not deficient after all, the SCC agreed that the CSA had been accredited throughout the period.

In other words, the SCC decided that for 2002 - 2010 the CSA was not accredited, yet was not unaccredited.  On this peculiar basis, CSA modular certifications during the 2002 - 2010 period remain invalid for the citizens but are considered valid by the Government.  And that means that the citizen is bankrupted in the process but the Government that did it can’t be held accountable.

The Federal Government is pleased to ignore questions on these matters.  We’re free to write them letters of complaint or questions and they’ll file them somewhere but don’t hold your breath for a response.  Wrote one frustrated woman to Industry Canada; “I have requested an answer to the following question numerous times and no one has the courtesy to reply.”  And they don’t have to reply.  The Government can wait it out, safe in the knowledge that their conduct is rarely noticed by the media, rarely investigated by police, and bankruptcy will financially, eventually, silence the citizens who’ve been harmed.  And that’s how James Moore has been handling this problem for three years now.

To win, we need to change the game.  And we will.  Stay tuned.