News

Corbella: Still a battle to fight after Albertans delayed a bad law


I too heard extensively from hundreds of Albertans who decided to copy me on the letters they wrote to the premier or their MLAs on this issue

Article content

Hey, engaged Albertan. Take a bow. Pat yourself on the back. Treat yourself. You deserve it.

Advertisement

Article content

The reason why the provincial government hit the brakes on proposed changes to how traffic violations are to be handled in the provincial court system is because thousands of Albertans didn’t just sit around idling and spinning their wheels in silent frustration, but because they took to their keyboards and sent off short (but not always so sweet) letters telling the UCP government that they won’t sit idly by while it prepares to savage their constitutional right to the presumption of innocence and other measures of procedural fairness before the courts.

The Administrative Penalties Act — which was also called Bill 21 — was expected to go into force on Feb. 1. But on Jan. 26, the government announced it was delaying bringing in this odious law.

Advertisement

Article content

Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney and Justice Minister Sonya Savage announced that the proposed law would be stalled following concerns raised by Albertans about a “training document” for the system that Postmedia revealed weeks earlier.

On Tuesday, I asked Sawhney a question about this law and she said: “We did hear extensively from Albertans through our constituency offices as well as our ministry offices and that is why we wanted to make sure that we took more time and did more engagement with all kinds of stakeholders to make sure that when we do reintroduce that we get it right and that we address some of those key issues that were brought up.”

I, too, heard extensively from hundreds of Albertans who decided to copy me on the letters they wrote to the premier or their MLAs on this issue.

Advertisement

Article content

Here’s one letter sent to the government by Vlad:

“I am a long time UCP supporter, and sit somewhere in the middle on the personal liberty vs. needs-of-society spectrum. I do not own a tin hat,” he wrote.

“I understand the logistical (and cost) reasons for going down this path. Unfortunately, democracy is largely not ideal, is messy and often inefficient. I believe it’s important to defend our fundamental rights even in the face of such issues.”

Peter from High River wrote: “Stop this insane traffic court plan. If you go through with this crap you will be a one and done Premier,” he wrote, referring to a line Premier Jason Kenney used to correctly predict the outcome of Alberta’s NDP government prior to the 2019 provincial election.

Advertisement

Article content

Leonard from Calgary wrote: “We have supported you and the UCP from day one. Moreover, we fully intend on continuing our support to, and beyond, election day . . . we still consider you to be our premier and the UCP the best party for Alberta’s future. That is unless this punitive and ham-handed bill is passed. In such an event our faith in yourself and the UCP will swiftly end.”

Or this letter: “I oppose this proposed new law . . . and want you to know I would have a lot of trouble voting for any government that so flippantly discarded a fundamental right in such a way for expediency. Please do not bring in this law.”

Or the best letter of all: “Dear Premier: My grandfather . . . is buried in France where he died fighting for our freedoms and rights, which includes the presumption of innocence, a fundamental cornerstone of any true democracy. If you bring in this law I’ll work ’round the clock to bury your political career.”

Advertisement

Article content

On Jan. 26, Sawhney and Savage said in a statement: “We will take the next 90 to 120 days to ensure that we communicate and consult with Albertans and they are educated on the changes proposed.”

Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney.
Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney. Photo by Government of Alberta

The proposed act would have basically eliminated traffic court but also the right to due process, the right to face your accuser, the right to cross-examine testimony provided by your accuser or witnesses and, as already mentioned, the right to be presumed innocent. It will reduce the length of time drivers have to challenge tickets to seven days and Albertans will have to pay an unrefundable fee for the privilege of doing so.

Hatim Kheir, a former Crown attorney in Ontario and a lawyer with the  Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, said in a recent interview that the new act undermines the presumption of innocence in several ways.

Advertisement

Article content

“First of all, the limit on the time to plead guilty to seven days creates a real practical barrier that arguably amounts to a complete denial of the right, but beyond that there’s a fee for fighting the ticket. So I mean given that most of these tickets would be a monetary penalty anyways, you’re essentially being forced to pay off a portion of the fine just to have the opportunity to then contest it. So, even if you’re acquitted at the end of it, you still paid a portion and it disincentives even raising a defence in the first place.”

Those seeking a review of a ticket of $299 or less must pay a non-refundable fee of $50, while challenging a fine over $299 will cost $150.

That means if you’re poor and can’t afford to pay to prove your innocence, you are automatically guilty and even if you manage to prove your innocence you will still pay a penalty for that right! That’s kind of ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ for the state, isn’t it?

Advertisement

Article content

On Tuesday, Sawhney said, “We wanted to make sure . . . that when we do reintroduce that, we get it right and that we address some of those key issues that were brought up.”

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?  But not so fast.

“We have a tremendous backlog in the courts that is impeding other criminal matters from being fully investigated and going to trial and that was the whole intention behind this program,” said Sawhney.

This repeated claim is false.

This is how Edmonton criminal defence lawyer Deborah R. Hatch put it:

“Kenney and his government are promoting a falsehood and trying to justify this new regime by advancing a complete misrepresentation: they claim this is all justified because administrative charges/tickets are clogging up the courts. There is no connection whatsoever between criminal charges and traffic tickets in the major urban centres. The two systems are entirely separate,” she wrote in a letter to me.

Advertisement

Article content

“In Edmonton and Calgary, traffic tickets are dealt with in separate courtrooms, usually by non-prosecutors, and by traffic court commissioners, not Provincial Court Judges. The number of criminal charges does not impact how traffic tickets are handled and vice versa.

“Every judge and lawyer knows this, but unfortunately the public does not.”

So, don’t rest on your laurels, readers. Pat yourselves on your back and then get busy making it very clear to Minister Sawhney that you won’t let the government drive over your right to due process and the presumption of innocence no matter how they try to spin it.

You can write to her at: transportation.minister@gov.ab.ca

Licia Corbella is a Postmedia columnist.

lcorbella@postmedia.com

Twitter: @LiciaCorbella

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.




Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

close