British Columbia

B.C. licence quirk catches Saudi students

A provincial court judicial justice says the province of British Columbia should fix a Motor Vehicle Act problem needlessly forcing foreign students into traffic court.

Judicial justice calls on province to fix problem which repeatedly lands foreign students in court

A provincial court judicial justice says the government needs to fix a Motor Vehicle Act problem that regularly sends foreign students to traffic court.

A provincial court judicial justice says the province of British Columbia should fix a Motor Vehicle Act problem needlessly forcing foreign students into traffic court.

A pair of recent court decisions involving Saudi Arabians has exposed a quirk in the law making it tough for police to determine if an accused needs a B.C. driver's licence.

"The government or ICBC needs to find a better system for an enforcement officer to have sufficient tools at roadside to satisfy the officer that the foreign driver's licence meets the requirements to drive the vehicle driven and that it is a subsisting driver's licence," Judicial Justice Hunter Gordon wrote in a decision released in late July.

'An unenviable position'

The Motor Vehicle Act requires motorists to carry a valid B.C. driver's licence.

But the law provides three exceptions:

  • new residents can use a licence from another jurisdiction for 90 days after moving to B.C.
  • visitors can carry a licence from another jurisdiction up to six months after entering the province
  • students can carry a licence from another jurisdiction as long as they're registered at an educational institution

In the first of two cases resulting in charges of failing to produce a licence, Abudullah Nafaa Al Anazi was stopped for speeding in Saanich in March 2014.

Al Anazi came to Canada in 2010, and was in Canada with his wife and child on a study permit as part of a Saudi Arabian scholarship.

The police officer seized his licence, claiming the study permit was not sufficient evidence Al Anazi qualified for one of the exemptions.

In the second case, Hamdan Sulaiman Abdulrahman Alfarraj was stopped for speeding in Saanich in 2015. He presented a licence issued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Its contents were partly in English and partly in Arabic.

In that situation, the officer who charged Alfarraj wasn't worried about his status as a student.

But he claimed that without a translation of the Saudi document, it was impossible for him to tell if Alfarraj was driving an appropriate vehicle or if he had any restrictions.

Both accused were assisted by a business administration student from Royal Roads University in Victoria who has been helping Saudi students adjust to Canadian culture.

He told Gordon the issue comes up four to five times a year among the approximately 350 Saudi students studying in Victoria at any one time.

Gordon empathized with police officers.

"An enforcement officer has limited time and resources to determine a driver's ordinary residence. Even the current status of a driver's licence issued in a jurisdiction other than Canada or the United States is difficult to determine at roadside," Gordon wrote.

"Compound that difficulty with a licence in a language other than English and the officer is in an unenviable position."

Gordon found both Al Anazi and Alfarraj not guilty.