The Honourable Allan Williams
Attorney General of B.C.
Dear Mr. Williams:
Re: Motor Vehicle Task Force Report
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has reviewed the recent Motor Vehicle Task Force Report and would like to draw your attention to the Association’s views on the report’s proposed changes in legislation and regulation.
We understand and appreciate the deep concern and frustration of those concerned with traffic law enforcement in this province about continuing and repeated violations, and the resulting terrible cost in terms of death, injury and property damage. However, we object to some of the proposals in the Motor Vehicle Task Force Report because they continue a dangerous trend, pioneered in British Columbia with the roadside suspensions of drivers’ licences, which gives police officers and other civil servants far too much discretionary power while weakening the roles of the provincial Legislature, the federal Parliament and the nation’s courts. In a democracy, the responsibilities for making laws and punishing offenders rightfully lie with these duly elected or appointed bodies.
Our general position is that legislators should make the laws, police should enforce them, and courts should, after due deliberation, determine the appropriate penalties in each case. Civil servants should administer the laws and insurance companies should operate in a non-discriminatory but actuarially sound manner. We have reviewed the Task Force’s recommendations from this standpoint and offer the following specific comments on those that particularly concern us. To indicate our sympathy with the aims of the Report’s authors, we have tried to suggest more acceptable alternative ways of achieving these aims.
Recommendations 1, 2 and 3
Disagree: The seriousness of the alleged offence, not the driver’s previous record, must govern how a suspect is dealt with. The previous record may be taken into account at the time of sentencing, if the accused is found guilty.
Suggestion: Severe penalties for repeated violations can be made mandatory through legislation, but the courts should retain sufficient discretion to vary penalties according to the circumstances of individual cases.
Disagree: Impoundment penalizes the owner of the vehicle rather than the offending driver, and the two are not necessarily the same. In fact, impoundment may affect the driver not at all, or merely peripherally (for example, what if the vehicle had been stolen?) It is unreasonable to expect employers, family members and friends of suspended drivers to be aware of the suspensions.
Suggestions: Drivers should be insured independently of vehicle insurance.
Agree: The present situation leads to double and triple jeopardy and allows ICBC discretionary powers it ought not to have.
Agree with first part; disagree with second part: The same rationale that attempts to justify the present practice could lead to drivers’ licence suspensions for failure to pay B.C. Hydro bills, property taxes or other unrelated obligations.
Suggestions: Defaulted debts to ICBC should be handled through norma1 collection procedures and should not affect the debtor’s ability to renew or retain a driver’s licence. Whether a person is allowed to drive in B.C. should depend solely on his or her ability and record, nothing else.
Disagree: Assessing penalties for infractions occurring outside the province is beyond the competence of the Province of British Columbia, and almost certainly would lead to inequities. The Province cannot guarantee that all out of province violations anywhere in the world will be reported. Even if it could, the task of relating foreign offences to B.C. violations would be difficult, if not impossible. In addition, the individuals concerned would already have been penalized by the foreign jurisdiction, in some cases more severely than would have been the case for similar infractions in B.C.
Agree partially: It is beyond the jurisdiction of the Province of British Columbia to attempt to influence the administration of driving laws in other jurisdictions, and if such is the purpose of the second part of this recommendation we are opposed to it.
Disagree: Receipt of a roadside suspension does not mean any offence has been committed. In fact, it means that a police officer has observed the driver in question and has determined that no charge should even be laid. To put roadside suspensions on drivers’ records would be even worse than recording charges which have not been proven.
Suggestions: The recommendation implies that law enforcement authorities believe roadside suspensions are being given in cases where convictions for drinking-driving offences could have been obtained. If this is so, and the authorities are truly concerned about drinking drivers going unpunished, they should instruct police to abandon roadside suspensions and lay impaired driving charges in all justifiable cases. (A recent high court decision may have the effect of obliging law enforcement authorities to take this course, and it will be interesting to see if alcohol related accidents diminish as a result.)
The question of mandatory blood tests raises a number of thorny ethical and legal questions that need to be examined thoroughly before any decision is taken. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is currently developing a position paper on this.
As far as the remaining recommendations are concerned, we either agree with them or have no opinion. It is unfortunate that the Task Force was so heavily weighted with law enforcement and civil service personnel, and that this resulted in too little consideration being given to that protection of due process and individual rights in the formulation of proposals. Some balance might have been obtained by inviting outsiders, such as doctors and lawyers in private practice, to serve on the Force.
We would appreciate hearing your response to our comments on the Task Force proposals prior to the introduction of any new legislation or regulations. We also would welcome an opportunity to review the new draft of the Motor Vehicle Act in full (the Task Force Report included only the recommendations and substantive changes, and pointed out that further work would need to be done by “legislative draftsmen”).