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Internal review finds serious problems with auto-industry watchdog

An internal government draft review of the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council, conducted in the fall of 2014, found so many serious problems it recommended immediate action to maintain public and industry confidence in the arm’s length regulator.

Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council so dysfunctional public confidence at risk

An internal government draft review of the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council found the agency is not following basic investigative principles.

An internal Service Alberta draft review of the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council, conducted in the fall of 2014, found so many serious problems it recommended immediate action to maintain public and industry confidence in the arm's length regulator.

"The overarching issue appears to be that the organization has become inconsistent, arbitrary and, at times, punitive," states a summary of the review provided to the council's board.

"While this constitutes a concern about the quality and consistency of service to consumers and fairness to licensees, the government's reputation is also potentially at risk because AMVIC is a delegated administrative organization accountable to the Minister of Service Alberta."

The Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) licenses and regulates auto dealers and repair shops, and investigates consumer complaints. It is supposed to serve as the self-regulating watchdog over the industry on behalf of the public. It operates under the purview of Service Alberta, which appoints a board to oversee it.

The council's board was supposed to provide a response to the minister by March 31. That would have included how it intended to address the myriad problems with the council's administration, management, policies and investigative processes identified by the draft review, and detailed in a summary provided to the council's board.

Wayne Paulsen, the council's chair, declined an interview request. But in an emailed statement, he said the board has hired a consultant to help address the report's recommendations and it will provide a plan of action to the minister for Service Alberta by mid-May.

CBC News has obtained a copy of the draft review, conducted by senior Service Alberta investigators Dave Vicen and Sean Seville, and also of the summary provided to the AMVIC board. Together, the review and summary amount to a scathing indictment of the council's management, and raise questions about whether AMVIC is properly serving the public and fairly treating the industry.

The review found:

  • Improper involvement of executive director John Bachinski in investigations.

The summary said Bachinski had "provided direction or implied to an investigator the course he (expected) the investigation to take. There (were) also instances when a decision (had) been arrived at by (Bachinski), apparently without input or recommendation from his investigators."

Bachinski is out of the province and unavailable for an interview. But in an emailed statement he said "a recent employee engagement survey done by a third party consultant found that for the most part, employees at AMVIC are happy and feel they receive support and guidance from their managers."

  • AMVIC investigators were using an unfair standard of proof. AMVIC employed a "balance of probability" standard.  

"The use of the terms 'probability' or 'probable' cannot be used to qualify the acceptable standard of proof relating to contraventions of law," the review states. "Such standard of proof must be that of 'reasonable and probable grounds' - a level of proof much higher than mere probability and what is required to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

  • Poor investigations.

"The review determined that basic investigative principles were often not followed. The lack of relevant notes and evidence to support findings opens AMVIC up to appeals on administrative actions, the potential for civil actions and could jeopardize AMVIC's ability to appoint peace officers."

  • Sloppy files.

A review of randomly selected investigative files found "a small percentage of these files met what would be considered a minimum standard to be expected from a quasi-judicial investigative body," the review states. "The remainder fell significantly short of this standard and were unacceptable."

The review also noted poor morale and an extraordinarily high rate of staff turnover.

"Employee dissatisfaction with AMVIC management is unusually high and sharply critical of management conduct," the review states.

"It is recommended that action be undertaken forthwith to address the substandard morale and excessive voluntary staff turnover within AMVIC."

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