The B.C. government is shifting traffic violations out of court in a move lawyers fear strips motorists of constitutional rights.
The Liberals are implementing amendments passed with no fanfare in 2012 to establish a new process for handling offences under the Motor Vehicle Act, similar to the paradigm shift made dealing with drunk drivers in 2010 when most impaired charges and trials were eliminated with a heavy-handed Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP) regime.
The Ministry of Justice and Public Safety confirmed Tuesday that a two-stage rollout is planned to shift MVA violations from the criminal system.
Work is underway on Phase 1, it said, bringing in an electronic ticketing and online payment system; the new hearing system will follow.
Though the implementation date has not been set, the ministry maintained in an email that the Road Safety Initiative to transfer traffic disputes out of court “will create system efficiencies and make processes more accessible for citizens.”
“E-ticketing, coupled with a faster dispute resolution process, will mean that driver infractions will be recorded against driving records more quickly, thereby enabling interventions for high-risk drivers to be applied in a more timely manner,” the ministry stated.
However, lawyers who opposed the IRP scheme say this new plan is similarly offensive.
“It’s a frightening piece of legislation,” warned Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee.
The IRP legislation is being challenged in the Supreme Court of Canada because it is a novel use of administrative law to address a criminal problem, which makes it easier for police, less expensive for government and dramatically increases fine revenue.
Aside from the concern of the province encroaching on the federal government’s criminal law-making responsibilities, the key change is that constitutional guarantees and defences available in a criminal prosecution are unavailable in an administrative context.
Under the amended law, police will stop writing “tickets” and electronically issue what are called “driving notices.”
“If you have a B.C. driver’s licence or have ever held a B.C. driver’s licence, you get a driving notice and are handled under the new scheme,” Lee said.
“If you are visiting from Alberta on vacation, you still get a traffic ticket, you get the right to have the usual court system.”
That’s one reason it’s unconstitutional, she believes, but adds the dispute and appeal process is similarly problematic.
Under the proposed plan, disputing a notice is a three-part process.
Initially, adjudication officers with the superintendent of motor vehicles provide an opportunity for drivers to plead guilty.
“They can offer you incentives to plead guilty, a fine reduction or giving you time to pay,” Lee explained. “It’s designed at the first instance to goad people into pleading guilty by giving them an incentive to do so. If you don’t do that, then you get to go to a hearing before the Driving Notice Review Board. That can be in any manner: it can be oral, it can be written, it can be in person, it can be in some kind of electronic form, or some combination of those.”
Before you have your hearing, though, Lee added, there is a pre-hearing where the accused must provide evidence.
“Now you don’t have a right to keep your defence a secret and have your witness come and have them testify that ‘he wasn’t speeding, I was in the car with him,’” Lee said. “You have to disclose all of your witnesses and your witness statements to the Crown.”
The police officer must submit his or her evidence by way of a sworn report, but if the officer who issued the driving notice can’t do it, any other officer can.
“Reading the legislation, the officer who issued the ticket isn’t even required to provide evidence other than the ticket itself,” Lee said.
“It’s insane. The decision of the board in the legislation is final — you cannot appeal the decision of the board to any court and you can’t seek judicial review.”
Although traffic tickets are misdemeanours, Lee insisted the consequences can be large, ranging from significant financial penalties and lengthy driving prohibitions to the forfeiture of a vehicle.
What the government is doing is trying to eliminate the ability of people to defend themselves, Lee maintained.
She said she and her colleagues are waiting for the new scheme to be implemented to launch a constitutional challenge:
“I think the government is trying to lull people into a false sense of security, where they feel that these changes are for the good of the public, but it appears to be for the good of government coffers.”
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/moves+eliminate+court+trials+traffic+violations/10953200/story.html#ixzz3WjXew9fo