Alberta Government Breaks Plan to Change How People Can Fight Traffic Tickets | The Canadian News

The Alberta government announced on Wednesday that it is putting the brakes on its controversial plan to review how people in the province can fight traffic tickets.

The changes are part of Bill 21which became law in 2020.

“We have clearly heard from Albertans who have shared their thoughts with us on traffic safety in this province,” reads a joint statement from Transport Minister Rajan Sawhney and Acting Minister of Justice and Attorney General Sonya Savage.

“This is why we are interrupting the launch of Phase 2 (of the SafeRoads Alberta plan).

“We will take the next 90 to 120 days to ensure that we communicate and consult with Albertans and that they are informed about the changes proposed in Phase 2. We will listen to what Albertans has to say and we will share the benefits of these changes with them. “

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A government spokesman told Global News details of how the province would consult with Albertans on the matter were still being worked out.

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On its website, the government says its plan to review how traffic ticket disputes are handled aims to “how we penalize disabled drivers and handle traffic ticket disputes by taking them out of the courts to free up court and police resources to focus on the most serious offenses. ”

In Phase 1 of the plan, the province has created a justice branch tasked with resolving traffic safety offenses and imposing stricter administrative penalties for poor governance.

In its news release Wednesday, the government cited Phase 1 of the plan as a success.

“Between 1 December 2020 and 31 December 2021, approximately 89 percent of cases of obstructed driving were diverted from the courts while ensuring that obstructed drivers faced steep and significant penalties,” the government said.

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Phase 2 of the plan is to “by the end of 2021” expand the jurisdiction of the adjudication branch to address all other violations of the Road Safety Act, except those that lead to bodily injury or death. “

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The plan also sees drivers being forced to pay a fee if they want to dispute a traffic ticket. The policy only allows seven days for a person to respond to an offense of which they have been informed, often by post, as in the case of speeding tickets.

Any application to dispute the administrative fines will require a fee to be paid and to go before an online adjudicator, not a fair trial. Restrictions on evidence may be imposed, but the method of review excludes personal hearings.

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A report by Alberta’s Department of Justice claims that changes to the Administrative Penalty Information System “will divert about two million tickets from the court system to the administrative model where traffic tickets can be addressed online, making about 500,000 personal visits Albertans make to traffic courts, eliminate. every year. “

“Alberta’s court system is facing a significant backlog,” Sawhney and Savage said. “It simply means that serious criminals return to the streets because the courts are caught up in traffic issues. This is unacceptable.

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“Every year, more than two million traffic tickets are issued in Alberta. Of those tickets, 400,000 are challenged. This leads to more than 60 000 challenges for traffic tickets that receive court dates. ”

Sawhney and Savage also claimed that “many repeat offenders in the rural crime epidemic’s court dates are being delayed by the thousands of traffic cases pressing the courts.”

However, when Global News asked Alberta Transportation and Alberta Justice if it would be possible to provide specific examples of when criminals were released back on the streets due to traffic court, no examples were given in the government’s response.

The changes included in Phase 2 of the plan would take effect on February 1st. Opposition critic Irfan Sabir on Wednesday issued a statement criticizing the $ 50 to $ 150 non-refundable fee that Albertans will have to pay to challenge tickets, as well as the seven-day limit on taking steps to get a ticket out. to challenge.

“The reality is that many Albertans are struggling financially and cannot produce $ 150 in seven days,” Sabir said. “If they can not produce that money, it means that many working Albertans will be prevented from making their voices heard and access to justice will be denied.”

Ian Runkle, a lawyer based in Edmonton, told Global News he was concerned about the changes to the traffic tickets on a number of fronts.

“The impact on people, especially marginalized people, is going to be huge,” he said. “You may be wrongfully accused and still can not afford to challenge it.

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“Instead of having a right to a trial date, it’s something you can buy … ‘We’ll sell you one.’

Runkle said he believes the changes essentially amount to a new tax.

“The benefits they are talking about here are really financial for the province,” he said. “They want to make it less expensive to issue tickets so they can make more money in the process.”

Runkle added that the new assessment aspect of the changes is problematic when it comes to the open courts principle. He said it was important that the legal system was not seen as shrouded in secrecy and that the process should be open to public scrutiny.

The Alberta Government’s review of traffic changes has come under increasing scrutiny since news broke earlier this month that former Justice Minister Kaycee Madu had called Edmonton’s police chief to investigate the circumstances surrounding a derivative driving license he had been given. discuss.

Madu, who has since said he regrets calling to book the ticket, while adding that he did not try to have it revoked, was removed from his cabinet post over the incident until an investigation into the case completed.

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Madu, who is Black, said he expressed concern about racial profiling and police surveillance of politicians in his phone call with Chief Dale McFee.

Runkle noted that the changes to the adjudication process introduced by Bill 21 would make it difficult for someone like Madu to raise concerns about the possibility of racial profiling, as a defendant could no longer cross-examine witnesses.

“The process itself is not going to be a fair trial in the sense that we normally think about it,” he said.

Runkle added that although the government said it would interrupt the rollout of the changes, it was concerned that the province did not appear to have addressed specific criticisms of the plan, other than to admit that some people were concerned.

-With files from Adam Toy, Global News

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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