Justice Minister Denis is touting “Traffic Court Reform” as a “citizen-friendly” dispute resolution process to “resolve” traffic tickets. It’s also the first step into a quagmire that erases our civil liberties in order to save money (and help the minister meet his 2014 budget targets).
The Justice minister requested “feedback” on the four principles underlying his draconian proposal. I sent him the following response:
Principle 1: The premise underlying the request for feedback is flawed. It is based on the assertion that traffic matters should be removed from the traditional court system and into an administrative process in order to save money and free up court time for more serious matters.
Cost reduction and better access to the courts are laudable goals but unrelated to the real question which is should traffic matters be removed from the traditional court system (and all the protections that it affords) and turned over to an administrative body about which we know absolutely nothing.
Principle 2: An administrative process is not efficient and accessible if it coerces citizens into unwittingly giving up their constitutional right to a fair trial. The so-called “early payment” option is not a convenient payment scheme but a mechanism to encourage citizens to plead guilty even if they’re innocent in order to save a few bucks.
Calling it a “discounted fine” is misleading. Citizens are being deceived into thinking that the “discounted fine” is akin to the early payment option on a parking ticket. They don’t understand that this is, in effect, a guilty plea that will go on their record and may result in demerit points and potentially count against them under a number of sections of the Traffic Safety Act.
The right to “challenge” a ticket before an adjudicator who will either “confirm” or “cancel” the ticket is not the same thing as the constitutional right to a fair trial conducted by a legally trained prosecutor in front of a legally trained judge. No amount of “training” can equip an adjudicator to understand the law, rules of evidence, and principles of natural justice as comprehensively as three years of law school and countless years of legal experience.
Principle 3: The right to a fair trial is further compromised by the fact that the citizen can and will be convicted on the strength of a police report. He has no right to cross examine the police officer who wrote the report because the officer is no longer required to attend. He can’t discuss the facts with the prosecutor (who may decide to dismiss the case for lack of evidence) because the prosecutor is no longer required to attend. The citizen’s fate rests on the scribblings of a policeman and nothing more.
Principle 4: The administrative process will be governed by the rules of natural justice, but the adjudicator has no latitude to make “a deal”. All he can do is “confirm” or “cancel” the ticket. How does this comply with the rules of natural justice and equity which allow for judicial discretion?
Furthermore, what is the applicable standard of proof? Will the adjudicator “confirm” or “cancel” based on his understanding of the balance of probabilities, beyond a reasonable doubt, or some cockamamie standard dreamed up by the Justice department? Incidentally the use of the terms “confirm” and “cancel” for “guilty” and “not guilty” further misleads Albertans into underestimating the impact of this proposal on their civil rights and freedoms.
I am saddened that the Justice minister would propose this misguided and frankly unconstitutional “solution” to ease the rising cost of maintaining our criminal justice system.
Further I am disappointed that the minister would resort to such a faulty feedback process to justify his attempt to slide into law a process that violates the rules of natural justice and a citizen’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
I urge you to reconsider this misguided proposal.
Sincerely, blah blah blah
Take a stand
I’ve practiced law for over two decades. A good part of my practice involves working with administrative/regulatory bodies including the securities commission, the NEB and FERC. All of these regulators can impose penalties for misconduct, but none do so at the expense of a citizen’s right to a fair trial.
Send an email to email@example.com. Tell them that you oppose Justice Minister Denis’ proposal to reform Traffic Court because it requires citizens to give up their right to a fair trial and as such is unconstitutional. It’s time to stand up against the PC government’s unrelenting assault on our civil liberties.
We may not succeed but we won’t go down without a fight!
I hadn’t heard of this “reform” and have sent my letter of protest. Thanks, Susan.
Perfect, thanks Phil. The Justice Minister was grilled on this “reform” today in the House by a member of his own party. He confirmed that no citizen would lose his right to fight a traffic ticket. What he didn’t say was that the citizen has one arm tied behind his back because he’s lost the right to cross-examine the police officer who wrote up the police report that has been accepted into evidence by the adjudicator.
You’ve lost your right to a fair trial if you’ve lost your right to cross-exam your accuser EVEN IN TRAFFIC COURT.
On the upside the Minister said “I want to hear from you” and repeated the email address twice to demonstrate his sincerity. So let’s bury him with feedback, even a simple sentence saying you understand he intends to “reform” Traffic Court and you don’t support it is worth doing.
I am coming by this late (I hope you see this) and wonder if you could update me on what has happened since you wrote this post with the situation?
Another thin end of another wedge.
My friends in the criminal bar say cost cuts have seriously undermined our criminal justice system. The Justice Minister set up a “self represented” process. This is jargon for cutting legal aid to the point where low income Albertans needing a lawyer are re-directed to the law library. They’re so overwhelmed they just plead guilty. The same thing is happening in the UK: http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/mar/07/lawyers-protest-parliament-legal-aid-cuts
Apparently next up on the chopping block is taking away an accused’s right to a preliminary inquiry. Prosecutions will go directly to trial whether there’s enough evidence to support them or not.
The drive to cut costs should not trump the need to protect civil liberties; but it does in Alberta.
Meanwhile http://christopherdiarmani.com/4714/police/abuse-of-police-authority/alberta-sheriff-thomas-bounds-taking-insensitivity-to-an-all-new-low/ 30k later and over 2 years they are still dening me access to justice
Bill, I read the article at the link. Shameful.
Bill this is really something. Sometimes I wonder if we are becoming less human. One does not even have to get astounded with the legal side of it, just the people’s side of this is quite shocking. I do not want to think of what I would do under the anger that these situations cause. Susan is right, this is shameful.
Susan this is just one more in the basket of embarassments.
At least it was worth to be part of the emails sent to Alison Redford in relation to the 45 thousand waste of money. She has repaid and she is pretty much done in political terms. The government is in disarray. I believe we have not seen the end of this issue. If she does not resign, she will be forced to. So maybe this legal aid business you explained so well may just go with her. I cannot wait for the end of this 41 year nightmare.
Carlos, now that the PC party has Redford squarely in its sights it will be interesting to see how they remove her from power. I’m betting there will be a crisis when it comes time to approve the 2014 budget. Ted Morton took Ed Stelmach down over the budget, the PC caucus may do it again. One thing is for certain, the WR have taken great pains to point out to the PC caucus that the debt will reach $21 billion by 2016. I’m sure the PC MLAs are worried sick about having to explain that to their constituents. And while I’ve heard that no one can tell Redford anything, I find it hard to believe that she’s solely to blame for the egregious cuts of last year and the “bitumen bonanza” budget of this year, but her imperious entitlement attitude has made her fair game.
This new “Traffic Court Reform” seems very unbalanced if the Alberta Traffic Safety Board has all the power where THEY can utilize the Justice system to hold you in contempt, issue a bench warrant, revoke your driver’s license, get you sentenced to jail, etc.- but you as a citizen don’t have any ability to defend yourself within the Justice system. Am I reading this right?
Exactly Elaine. It’s hard to figure out where this “reform” fits within the judicial system given the loosey-goosey way it’s been structured. In reality it’s another half-baked attempt to deal with our rising population and the pressure that is putting on all social services, including the criminal justice system.
There aren’t enough prosecutors or judges to hear all the contested traffic court cases plus the other criminal cases pending on the docket. Rather than appoint more judges and hire more prosecutors and support staff, the Justice Minister is going to pull traffic court cases out of the queue and send them off to the adjudicator (retired cops?) under an as-yet-to-be-determined process.
This won’t be a big deal for those who want to pay their tickets because they know they’ve been caught dead to rights (they can do this now under the existing law and don’t need this “reform”). It is a big deal for those who are unfairly ticketed and want to fight the charges. Not only do they face the threat of a bigger fine if they challenge the ticket and lose, their ability to win their case is undermined because they can’t challenge the evidence (the police report) because the cop doesn’t have to show up, they can’t try to talk sense into the prosecutor because he doesn’t have to show up and they can’t persuade the adjudicator there were extenuating circumstances because the adjudicator has no discretion but to “confirm” or “cancel”.
And there is no such thing as a “confirm” or “cancel” option under criminal law or administrative law (at least not until now). A “reform” as far reaching as this deserves significant study. Frankly sending around a questionnaire which produces a predetermined answer is morally and ethically wrong.
My goodness how low can Alison Redford get? She is put under ‘adult supervision’ and still does not quit. She will be forced out. 🙂
Wow this is really beyond esoteric. Too bad there are not political Olimpics, we would be at the top of the podium in many categories.
How can she even think of doing anything when she lost the trust of most of her caucus? Just no shame whatsoever.
I AM TOTALLY AGAINST THIS REFORM. People in Alberta need their day in court to present their case and face their acusor. This is no different than the 0.05 law that makes the police judge and jury.
Paul, you’re absolutely right–this so-called “reform” puts all the power in the hands of the police and does absolutely nothing to address the so called “problem” of crowded provincial courts. According to the Calgary Criminal Defense Lawyers Association of Calgary traffic court matters are NOT heard by criminal court judges and do NOT involve prosecutors and their staff today. Makes you wonder just what the Justice Minister and the PC government are really up to.
I am in favour of this reform. Right now if I get a ticket in Edmonton I have to drive to Edmonton to fight it. That’s not access to justice. This reform process is, just like parking tickets. It should go ahead and I’ve sent a letter in support of it, thanks for letting me know.
As long as the adjudicators are experienced and understand the intricacies of the TSA.
There are a lot of VERY fine details and exceptions hidden in the TSA…quirky wording that
one must understand….I don’t want my ticket reviewed by someone inexperienced.
I’ve been working with the TSA and associated Regulations for over 20 years and still fine new stuff…where are these adjudicators coming from? What are there qualifications?