Critics say new rules will make fighting traffic tickets tougher in B.C.
Published Wednesday, April 8, 2015 7:08PM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 8, 2015 7:40PM PDT
The B.C. government is changing the rules for drivers who want to appeal a traffic violation in what critics are calling a cash grab.
Millions of dollars in fine revenue could be on the line in a plan to shift drivers from a court challenge of their ticket to an administrative tribunal that is more geared against motorists – likely enriching the government and possibly stripping the driver of his constitutional rights, according to critics.
“It’s going to cost people more. The government is going to make money and citizens are going to lose their fundamental rights and that’s wrong,” said the NDP's Mike Farnworth.
The B.C. government has pitched the plan as a way to more efficiently collect revenue from drivers. Instead of being issued a ticket, the new system has officers writing “electronic driving notices.” That’s phase one, which is being rolled out now.
Phase two, which has no date set yet, replaces going to court with an administrative process similar to the rules in place now for accused drunk drivers.
But lawyer Kyla Lee said the new system uses flawed rules of evidence and unfair procedures. The police officer doesn’t have to show up to the hearing, she said.
“Without the opportunity to cross-examine and test evidence, it’s a problem to get at the truth,” Lee said, adding it also means less scrutiny for police officers.
“It empowers officers to do things wrong. They’re no longer supposed to answer for their conduct."
This would only apply to B.C. drivers, while drivers from another jurisdiction would continue to use the existing system, which is another unfairness, she said.
Revenue from traffic tickets has been falling, down some 14 per cent as the number of violation tickets issued across B.C. dropped from about 550,000 in 2008 to 476,000 in 2014.
The B.C. government would not provide revenue figures to CTV News, but as most fines are between $100 and $200, the province gained between $50 million and $100 million last year in fines.
The number of challenged tickets has increased, from about 67,000 in 2008 to about 75,000 in 2014.
The challenged fines are worth between $7.5 million and $15 million using the same assumptions.
Lee said the law would decrease the amounts lost to appeals and increase the fines levied because police will write more tickets, knowing they have to defend them less.
“This is millions of dollars. It’s going to be millions of dollars in the government’s pocket as a cost to citizens,” she said.
Drivers advocate Ian Toothill of Sense B.C. said he doesn’t believe drivers should have to pay more – and that it’s fair for people caught in an apparent motor vehicle act violation to be able to challenge the fine if they think something is wrong.
“People go to court because they think they ‘ve been wronged,” said Toothill. “They have the right to fight against their accuser. They will have lost their right to fight and I think that’s wrong.”