“Is this bike safe — or not?”
Pointing to a yellow motorcycle sitting in the bed of her son’s pickup, Patti Cross asks a question you might think any mechanic could answer by checking the bike’s brakes, tires, signal lights and, perhaps, its gas tank.
But after purchasing a 2001 MZ Baghira Mastiff on-road/off-road motorcycle on eBay for $3,250 US, then shipping it from Florida to Alaska for $600, Patti and her husband Steve Cross discovered mechanics don’t matter.
Their bike isn’t on a federal list.
That means it can’t be certified for road use, regardless of its compliance with safety regulations.
In fact, federal officials have bluntly told the couple: Export your bike, or destroy it.
“It’s not that it doesn’t meet Canadian safety standards; it’s just that it isn’t on the list,” said Patti, highlighting what she feels are hypocritical rules regulating imported vehicles.
The Cross family lives on a trapline near Beaver Creek. About two kilometres of rough road separate their residence from the highway.
They bought the 660-cc Mastiff, which is built in Germany, for its rugged suspension and its ability to travel both on- and off-road.
Similar bikes, known as “enduros,” are common in the Yukon; in fact, actor Ewan McGregor rode a BMW enduro through Whitehorse on his recent trip around the world.
The Crosses approached Canada Customs before buying the Mastiff.
They were told they would simply have to pay GST when crossing the border, said Patti.
“They didn’t tell us to contact Transport Canada.”
After paying about $250 in GST, the Cross’s entered Canada assuming — incorrectly — a mechanic could certify the bike.
That’s when they discovered the infamous list.
“We were not aware that you had to go to Transport Canada. If we had have been aware we would have approached them and it would have been a non-issue,” said Patti.
Knowing what they do now, they wouldn’t have bought the bike, she said.
But they did buy the bike and Patti now hopes her story can highlight Canada’s contradictory regulations for imported vehicles in a day when anyone can buy a vehicle from almost anywhere, thanks to the internet.
Transport Canada regulates the importation of vehicles through the Registrar of Imported Vehicles agency, explained deputy registrar Gary Moriarty.
The registrar is concerned with vehicle manufacturers and their adherence to Canadian safety standards — not whether an individual vehicle is safe or not, Moriarty said.
Enter the list.
“When I inspect a vehicle, I don’t say it’s roadworthy or not,” he said.
“It may be in terrible condition, the brakes may be awful, but I can tell you off the bat that when it was built, it had the required safety equipment.”
“We’re not saying a vehicle can’t comply. We’re saying that, in the absence of any information, it fails to demonstrate compliance.”
The list is an inventory of information from manufacturers on their individual vehicles, explained Moriarty.
If a manufacturer hasn’t approached Ottawa to prove its vehicles meet our regulations or US federal regulations, it simply isn’t on the list.
Most large manufactures, like General Motors, Honda and BMW, do what’s necessary to allow their vehicles to be imported.
Smaller, more obscure manufacturers don’t, said Moriarty.
“You can bring an incredibly perfect new Lamborghini into our country but you can’t get it certified.
“It simply doesn’t meet Canadian or US standards; it meets European standards.”
Speaking hypothetically about the Cross’s situation — a motorcycle that was ridden legally in Florida but isn’t legal here — Moriarty got into nitty-gritty detail.
“That may be a grey-market vehicle,” he said. “That may be a vehicle that was not manufactured for the US market, but was legally imported into the US. They may have legally modified it.
“We can only regulate vehicles that were originally manufactured for the US market.”
But there is a glaring loophole in our federal regulations, and Patti knows it.
Any vehicle 15 or more years old meets our certifications, through a grandfather clause in our laws.
The loophole further enrages Patti.
“The ironic thing is if this bike was 15 years old, it would be a non-issue, we could bring it in,” she said.
“So are we concerned here about safety or not?”
The law and its list came into place in 1995 with a clause that allowed vehicles built before 1980 to be considered compliant, explained Moriarty.
That remains the case to this day.
“There’s a glaring inconsistency there; I can’t say I’m happy about it,” said Moriarty.
The loophole has opened the door for older European and Asian vehicles to be imported and driven in Canada, once they pass a basic safety inspection, he added.
Older Mercedes cars are thus being shipped to Canada from Eastern Europe — and “There’s no way they comply with our standards.
“But we have to abide by the law” and allow them in, he conceded.
“I certainly don’t defend it, but I have to operate under those rules.”
One person who is happy with the rules is Marko Stefanovic.
Stefanovic co-owns Outback Imports in Whitehorse, a company that imports older cars, vans and trucks from Japan.
The vehicles are compliant with Canadian regulations because all are 15 years old or older — some of them “right down to the month,” said Stefanovic.
Importing a vehicle outside the grandfather clause is complicated, he said, referring to the Cross’s situation.
Like many things, success often is a result of how much money you’re willing to spend, he said.
“Wealthy people bring in high-end European sports cars all the time; they’ll pay whatever it takes to make them compliant,” said Stefanovic.
Stefanovic cautions people to seek the advice of a customs broker and do their homework before importing vehicles into Canada.
“The rules on the Transport Canada website are really crystal clear,” he said.
A quick check on the Registrar of Imported Vehicles reveals a large link that reads: “Importing a vehicle into Canada? Click here to find out how.”
That’s exactly where the Crosses made their biggest mistake.
“If we would have contacted Transport Canada and they said, ‘No, you can’t bring it into Canada because it doesn’t meet the safety standards,’ we would have just assumed that it’s not safe,” said Patti.
“But they’re not saying that. They’re just saying that they haven’t looked at it to ensure that it meets safety standards.
“Why can’t the federal government have agents look at the bike and say if it meets the safety standards?”
Patti has contacted Yukon MP Larry Bagnell and hopes Reader’s Digest will write a story about her situation.
But the orange Mastiff sitting in her son’s truck is going to be sent somewhere else, she said, bitterly.
Trying to get it certified as “safe” by Ottawa is “a long-shot and a waste of time,” she said.