Changes to traffic dispute process in B.C. under way

The provincial government is moving ahead with its plan to shift traffic violation disputes out of the court system.

Under the new system, drivers would appear before a review board to challenge a traffic violation

This driver is about to get a ticket from police for distracted driving. (Chris Corday/CBC News)

The British Columbia government is moving ahead with its plan to shift traffic violation disputes out of the clogged court system.

The change was first announced in 2012 as a way to speed up traffic dispute resolutions and to "create system efficiencies and make processes more accessible for citizens,"  according to a statement from the ministry of justice. 

Instead of receiving a ticket, drivers will be handed an electronic driving notice. Then instead of having the option of challenging the violation in court, a driver would appear before a new driver notice review board.

No more paper tickets

"E-ticketing, coupled with a faster dispute resolution process, will mean that driver infractions will be recorded against driving records more quickly, thereby enabling interventions for high-risk drivers to be applied in a more timely manner," according to the ministry.

About 14 per cent of the 500,000 tickets issued each year in B.C. are disputed and the government says the new dispute system will save $8 to $11 million per year by freeing up court resources for other work.

However, lawyer Kyla Lee says allowing a review board to handle traffic disputes is problematic because it "takes away all of the things that, as Canadians, we expect from our court."

"You have police officers who are entitled to detain you, they're entitled to handcuff you if necessary and when they turn on their lights behind you, you are required by law to stop your vehicle and present your licence," Lee told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Concerns over lack of due process 

"So there's a huge exercise of power over citizens and we need courts to keep a check and balance on that power."

Lee says disputing a driving notice under the new system will involve a three-part process. If the driver maintains innocence, they are obligated to provide evidence during a pre-hearing. After that, they will attend an actual hearing.

Police must submit a sworn report as evidence, but if the officer who issued the driving notice can't do it, another officer can, Lee said.

"At the end of the day, the review board is going to determine how the hearing is going to take place, whether you get to cross examine the officer, whether the officer has to come, what evidence you can present — all of that is determined by the tribunal," she said.

"You don't have the power to mount your own defence in the way that you want to."

The province says the planning and development of the electronic ticketing system is already underway. The new system for resolving traffic disputes out of court will follow at a later date.

To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled: B.C. to eliminate court trials for traffic disputes