Aren’t we just part of Transport Canada?

ISSN 2369-873X

25 January 2013
Posted by: Ewan Tasker

The difference between Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada

Virtually every time I arrive at an accident site, I hear someone say “Transport Canada is here”. I occasionally spend a few seconds trying to clear up the misconception, but often don’t have the time to explain the differences, and why they are important.

In brief, Transport Canada (TC) is the department responsible for promoting transportation safety and security, which reports to the Minister of Transport. The TSB, however, is an independent agency—separate from other government agencies and departments—that reports to Parliament through the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

TC’s mandate is vast and complex. The department is tasked to promote and ensure a safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible transportation system, which contributes to Canada’s economic, social, and sustainable development objectives. In contrast, the TSB’s mandate is solely to advance transportation safety. This difference might seem insignificant to some, but the distinctions occasionally leave our organizations in disagreement. Recommendations we make that are intended to advance safety have to be weighed by TC against their other objectives and responsibilities. Staying focused on a single objective, and not letting other factors influence our analysis, is one of the main reasons that we must maintain our independence.

Our singular focus on safety also means that we play no role in ensuring rules are followed, or assigning blame or liability. This misconception is probably the most common and unfortunate one that we, as investigators, face during an investigation.

Often people feel as though we are at the scene to determine what happened and whose fault it was. I assure you, this isn’t the case. Nobody wakes up in the morning with the intention of causing an accident, and likewise no TSB investigator wakes up the day after with the intention of placing blame.

Blaming someone for an accident is not only clearly outside of our authority, it is almost always completely ineffective at advancing safety. When mistakes or omission are made, slapping someone on the wrist does little to determine what caused the accident, and almost nothing to prevent it from happening again. Figuring out what happened and why however is essential.

On a more positive note, more commonly these days, we meet professionals who are involved in an accident and know exactly who we are and why we are there. They are usually just as interested in the outcome of the investigation as we are, as they themselves are unsure of what happened.

Once everyone knows our purpose and the fact that we’re not ‘out to get them’, the synergy and collaboration that can result makes identifying safety deficiencies and underlying issues immeasurably more accurate, and as a result, hopefully makes transportation safer.

And this is one area where the TSB and Transport Canada are exactly the same.

Image of Ewan Tasker

A Senior Regional Investigator in our Richmond Hill office, Ewan Tasker has over 20 years of civil aviation experience in flight operations and Air Traffic Control. Ewan spends a lot of time these days with his five year old daughter teaching each other new things. One of them is learning how to control emotional outbursts, the other is learning how planes fly.

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