CALGARY, Alberta – A four-year legal battle has led Mike Nickerson to Canada’s Supreme Court – and all because of a customized truck.
Nickerson, owner of Longhorn Limo in Calgary, has been wrangling with Transport Canada, the Canadian version of the U.S. Transportation Department, since he had his 1999 Chevrolet Crew Cab 4x4 stretched by 140 inches.
After a ruling by the Alberta Court of Appeals went against him, Nickerson said he asked Canada’s Supreme Court in June to hear this appeal.
Nickerson described himself as a former rancher who “never had a desire” to be in the limousine business. “It wasn’t until I was on holiday in Arizona that I saw a stretch truck just like this one and absolutely decided that I wanted one,” he said.
If that type of vehicle worked well in the U.S., there must be a market for such an exotic vehicle in Calgary, a city of more than 900,000 people whose economy is largely based on ranching and oil.
Nickerson bought his Chevy in Calgary and shipped it to Three D Custom in Ft. Worth, a coachbuilder. Three D has apparently since gone out of business; its phone and Web site have been disconnected.
In early July of 1999, the newly converted stretch limousine returned to Alberta, passed inspections and was registered with the Alberta government. One month later, however, Transport Canada deemed the limousine unsafe and abruptly seized it.
Nickerson argued that the federal government had no jurisdiction over the vehicle.
Transport Canada officials “told me it didn’t meet their safety standards, but I said it didn’t have to, that it was an Alberta thing,” Nickerson said. “They seized it for six months and I went to court to get it back. We proved that they legally did not have a safety regulatory issue with the vehicle.”
But Transport Canada decided to pursue the issue, filing an appeal and accusing Nickerson of illegal importation.
A few years, 26 judges and hundreds of thousands of Canadian dollars later, Nickerson had not lost a ruling until earlier this year when the Alberta Court of Appeals, one step below the Canadian Supreme Court, overturned the original judge’s decision.
An appeals judge “said in his decision that because it changed classifications from a truck to a bus, it was therefore imported,” Nickerson said. “He wouldn’t allow my lawyer [Keith Groves] to argue the case so we never really had a chance to state our claim.”
Nickerson filed for an appeal with the Supreme Court in early June and was hoping for a response within a couple of months. In the meantime, he continues to operate the vehicle, as he has since April 2000. He also has a new, federally approved, 12-passenger Ford Excursion.
“We’re sometimes booked up to a year in advance, especially with weddings and graduations,” Nickerson said.
For a man who said he can’t afford to take a vacation, Nickerson refuses to give up the fight, even though his foe is much larger and has deeper financial pockets than he does.
“I’m just a stubborn old cowboy,” Nickerson said. “I’m certainly not trying to be a hero, but an awful lot of Canadians have come up to me and said, ‘Mike, you’re fighting for our rights. Keep fighting. Don’t quit.’ I’m at a point where there is no quitting, and even if I could, I feel I’d be letting a lot of people down.”