B.C. drivers may soon be denied their day in court to challenge traffic tickets.
Vancouver lawyer Sarah Leamon expects constitutional questions to arise with the likely passage of legislation that removes courts from disputes involving driving violations.
“The right to counsel and the right to a fair trial are most certainly going to be compromised, in my opinion,” Leamon told the Straight in a phone interview.
Bill 52, called the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act (No. 2), 2012, establishes an administrative process to deal with traffic infractions. This replaces the current court-based procedure.
“You’re not going to be able to cross-examine police officers anymore,” Leamon explained.
Shirley Bond, B.C. Liberal minister of justice and attorney general, introduced the legislation. It’s intended to unclog court dockets: about 70,000 traffic tickets are contested in B.C. courts each year. The justice ministry didn’t respond to a Straight request to interview Bond.
When the bill passed second reading on May 8, Leonard Krog, the Opposition critic for the attorney general, suggested moving consideration to the fall session. But the measure may go through a third and final reading by the time the legislature takes a break starting May 31.
According to Micheal Vonn, policy director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the administrative procedure outlined in Bill 52 falls below the standards of due process.
“It’s just a very bizarre process,” she told the Straight in a phone interview. Under the legislation, traffic tickets can be contested by phone or in writing with the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles. If drivers aren’t satisfied with the results, they can ask for a ruling from a review board, whose decisions cannot be questioned before any court.
Under the current system, drivers can go to court if they don’t agree with a police officer’s claim that they violated motor-vehicle law.
Under the new legislation, drivers may end up paying more in either basic or premium insurance fees, according to Victoria lawyer Erik Magraken. “ICBC gets the right under this legislation to set up a point penalty system, which will let them increase your insurance based on the conviction of these infractions,” he told the Straight by phone. “Not only are you paying a fine for being guilty of these moving violations, but then your insurance is directly affected.”