A circle tour of Quebec Bureaucracy

Editor ‘arris thought that registering his KLR in New Brunswick would be a relatively easy affair. Then came the dreaded SAAQ.

WARNING – may contain coarse language!

Words: Rob Harris, Pics: stolen

A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die.

Franz Kafka

It’s like a novel Kafka would have written if he were alive today and living (or at least used to live) in the province of Quebec and owned a motor vehicle. Then he would have had to deal with Quebec’s motor vehicle licensing authority, La Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, or the SAAQ.

I had a stint in La Belle Province until last year, when I finally decided that it was time to move to climates east. Mainly to raise my two young kids out of the city, but also in part because of the SAAQ – the great minds that buggered Quebec motorcyclists with a huge rate hike on the grounds of faulty stats, misinformation and a hatred for all things two-wheeled.

With that I thought my relationship with Quebec and the SAAQ was history, but like the mafia – Just when I thought I was out … they pull me back in.




Churchill knew the signifigance of two digits.

The first signs of trouble occurred when I went to register my trusty KLR650 in New Brunswick.

The new plate was actually sitting on the desk in front of me, my wallet was out and it was about to be one of the simplest transactions ever occurred between citizen and government when out came the fateful words, “Oh your VINs don’t match.”


It was true, the VIN on my registration had a “1F” when it should have read “LE.” This likely occurred when I had to get the bike safety’d when I first moved to Quebec and the mechanic hand-wrote the VIN for a government lackey to hand-type it into the system.

Either way my heart sank and my stomach tightened.

But the fix didn’t sound too bad. All I had to do was go to the local mechanic, get them to check what the VIN actually is, sign a letter to the effect, come back to the licensing office and Bob’s your auntie’s live-in lover!

It was a one-hour detour to registration bliss and I triumphantly returned with a piece of paper in hand promising peace in our time.

Not so fast Mr. Chamberlain …

Once again my new plate was merely inches away from me, my wallet was open when a new “uh oh” moment was revealed.

“The computer won’t let me change the VIN.”

Oh shit. The clerk picked up the phone to HQ in Fredericton and that’s when I heard the fateful word “SAAQ.”




No, she’s not going to send me back to the effing SAAQ.

“Sir, Fredericton says that we can’t do anything at this end. You have to get the SAAQ in Quebec to fix the faulty VIN and then you can come back and register your motorcycle.



“Welcome back Mr. Harris”

This isn’t happening. If there’s one thing I hate more than the SAAQ it’s … No, there isn’t anything.

The SAAQ – the newly diagnosed STD of my previous relationship with Quebec.


It took me two days to muster the strength to enter Quebec’s equivalent of Dante’s Inferno, but I had no option and picked up the phone.

After 10 minutes stuck in a phone tree the size of a California redwood I finally get a real human being. “Oh, yes it appears that for some unknown reason the VIN was changed. Do you know why?”

Idiots at the SAAQ? But I managed to keep my inside voice inside, and just muttered something about safety checks, bad mechanic handwriting and the overworked SAAQ employee doing their darndest to get it right.

“I’ll look into it and call you right back.” I’d heard that before, but I accepted his word and put down the phone.

I never heard from him again.

The next day I repeated my journey back through the nine circles of hell, starting with the arduous climb up the redwood phone tree at its gates.

Wiser and ready for the fight this time, I refused to let them call me back and stayed on hold until they sorted this out. After much conferring with supervisors a solution was proposed.

“Mr. Harris, you need to send a letter outlining the old VIN, the new VIN, your letter of confirmation, description of the bike and the number of the registration, with the date, your full name and signature to …”

“And then?”

“And then we’ll send you a new registration document with your correct VIN.”

“And how long will this take?”

“We don’t know. Thank you.”

I’m fucked.

I could feel myself being dragged into the mouth of the SAAQ beast. New Brunswick couldn’t or wouldn’t fix the problem and without a fix I couldn’t register my bike.

I could also feel an ulcer forming.

There was nothing for it. Copies were made, a letter written and a package mailed — along with the fate of my KLR — back into Quebec.



Sadly I am.

It was only a few days later, while doing my monthly accounts, that I noticed a charge from SAAQ AIP, $53.45. It was my monthly charge for my plate and registration, only it was supposed to have ceased the month before, and besides I’d already moved away from Quebec.

The next business day I don my fire suit and call again.

It turns out that I may have moved and I may have gotten a new licence and returned the old one to Quebec, but as far as the SAAQ is concerned you’ve only really moved away from Quebec if you write them a letter with proof.

Otherwise they renew your direct debit charges for another year … by default. Of course, they let you know that by sending you a letter to your old address, which you don’t get … because you moved!

Arghhhhhhh. You fucks … I was losing it.

Thankfully the man on the other end of the phone was helpful and even a little understanding.

“It’s okay, we’ll just register the vehicle as ‘in storage.’ That way you won’t be charged any more until we get the written confirmation and proof that you have moved.

Okay, I’ll do it, sign me up.

But alas, that would be too easy. Turns out the computer won’t let him change the status to stored because the file is frozen … apparently there’s a problem with the VIN …


It would have been laughable if it wasn’t so ulcer forming.

The solution? Another letter asking that they please change status to ‘stored’ in order to stop the debits.

Well, not quite, they’ll likely take another full payment next month because I “owe that” (owe, owe?????), then they’ll keep taking the monthly payments but at a far reduced rate because “the system works better to keep constant withdrawals.”

I’m sure it bloody well does.

So here I am, writing another letter, copying more documents, begging the SAAQ to fix their problems, to stop stealing my money and to please do it in a prompt manner.

I was told that the whole process could take weeks, but I’m expecting it to take months or just not happen at all. In the meantime my beloved KLR is caught in a weird legal limbo, at the whim and mercy of the SAAQ and I fear my trip through the circles of hell may have left me ulcerated and defeated.

Je Me Souviens, as they say in Quebec. Je Me Souviens.



Sever all direct links.

1) Do not move to Quebec, unless you plan to never leave again.

2) Do not, I repeat do not, give the government direct access to your bank account. It’s a roadmap directly to your wallet and they can make monthly road trips for visits whether you still invite them or not.

3) Whenever a government employee types anything concerning you into the big computer, check every damn letter to make sure it’s right before you leave the building.

4) Return and check once more.


  1. As some one who restores vintage motorcycles, I have had the displeasure of dealing with the imbeciles at the SAAQ for many years. When a SAAQ clerk gives you the run-around demanding unnecessary documents simply because they are not sure of what to do themselves- and then tell you to come back and waste another 1/2 day of your life in line, don’t be afraid to contact the head of customer relations and demand a scheduled sit down appointment for your next visit – remember to keep a clear list of names of who you spoke to along the way – the SAAQ… typical Quebec bureaucracy.

  2. I got my license renewal yesterday, accompanied as always by that delightful slip of paper with the girl on it saying “pay monthly debit, it’s easy”.

    Yeah right. Make me pay 5% interest and get direct access to my bank account? Screw that. I don’t even use Interac.

    I wrote a cheque.

  3. ooo ooo I’ve got one.
    Bought a 1977 Honda CJ360T a couple of months ago for my son.
    Off the road less than a year but was bought from a dealer for $360 a couple of month before.
    Went to the SAAQ with my proxy form in hand expecting to get a classic plate for the old girl…..but wait…”what’s this? It’s older than 25 years old?” Yes, that’s why I’m getting a classic plate. “Oh no monsieur, you’ll have to get evaluated so we can tax you first accordingly.” I paid $300 for it but have since restored it to near mint and now it’s a $2000 bike??? Not only that the inspection is $100. sigh.

  4. Glad I moved away from that insanity in 98.. I have to say I had a great ole time of it back then. My insurance was 125$ through Belair for a year (for nothing but a piece of pink paper and liability) for an 85 Ninja 900.. They sure went and fucked their hats when it comes to motorbikes.

    Solution: Cask strength something or other!

  5. Good God man! Sorry to hear of your pain Rob. However, I will admit to having a chuckle at the way you described your raping. This story is very [i][b]CMGish![/b][/i]

  6. Now really…just keep to the backroads.
    At the rate at which you drive, no one will catch you.
    You probably could have kept the Quebec plate and no one would have been the wiser.
    Serves you right for trying to do ‘the right thing’…lol.

  7. In QC you pay $53 a *month* for the privilege of registering a bike? Ouch. That’s about what I pay per year in Nova Scotia. Exept not yet this year, since the bike is ‘in storage’. Hey you could borrow my bike … 🙂

  8. Had that problem once on a Triumph car in Ontario. MTO told me to get a letter from the manufacturer to prove it. At this point Triumph had been out of business for about 20 years, but some British Heritage Institute was able to access the factory records and give me the letter (for $80). It was all worth it when the grumpy biddy back at MTO looked at my letter and said “You can’t do that”. After a half hour “discussion” she finally called Toronto, got told, and very begrudgingly issued revised papers.

  9. i actually have another KLR bitsa in Montreal (last registered in Ontario). I may try and register that frame here and do exactly what you’re suggesting. Seems nuts but it may be the only solution.


  10. Hey ‘Arris, you should just find a KLR with a good frame and title and spend 2 hours swapping the bits from yours to it, then send your frame back to le belle province to rust in piece(s). It would be far less work than what you are going through now, cheaper too. The KLR has not changed in a billion years and yeah the model year may go way down but who cares, the bits will all go together. Someone here in NB must have a bike with a blown motor or wrecked but with a good frame.


  11. That’s just plain ugly – and really good advice. Always, always, always check to make sure all the numbers match!

  12. Thank god I live in BC I know some curse ICBC but I have had no trouble with them getting it right for the 40 years they have been in business.

    Their rates are a bit high but at least every one is covered.

    B Blythe
    chilliwack BC

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