Alberta government delays plans for new traffic court strategy

NDP critic wants plan scrapped, saying a surcharge of up to $150 to dispute a traffic ticket would deny access to justice for many Albertans.

Changes were targeted for implementation on Feb. 1, but will be put on hold for up to four months

Nearly a dozen dozen cars drive down a road toward downtown Calgary, with the city's skyline in the background.
The Alberta government said Wednesday that it is hitting the pause button on its proposed traffic court changes for up to three to four months. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta's UCP government is putting on hold its plans to shake-up traffic court in the province, changes it says are aimed at freeing up court resources but have been roundly criticized by opponents.

Those changes were targeted for implementation on Feb. 1, but will be put on hold for up to four months as the government seeks to explain the changes and receive further feedback.

Critics have taken aim at the changes, saying it would mean motorists who dispute a traffic ticket would face a surcharge of up to $150 under a system that would also give drivers only seven days to fight it.

The province said its plan is intended to free up police and court resources to address more serious cases while allowing people to dispute their offences, be heard and be granted extra time to pay if they need it.

"We have clearly heard from Albertans who shared their thoughts with us on traffic safety in this province," the government said in a statement.

"We will take the next 90 to 120 days to ensure that we communicate and consult with Albertans and that they are educated on the changes proposed. 

"We will listen to what Albertans have to say and we will share the benefits of these changes with them."

The province said more than two million traffic tickets are issued each year in Alberta, with the justice system dedicating 10 courtrooms per day to traffic tickets alone.

The UCP said that "clogs up the justice system and creates real-world consequences for Albertans."

For example, the province says many repeat offenders of rural crime have their court dates delayed or scrapped due to the traffic cases crowding the courts.

Rather than delayed, the NDP's justice critic argues the program should be scrapped. He wants the government to halt a plan he said would "impose steep new appeal fees and tight deadlines to appeal traffic tickets."

"I think Albertans have already been clear that a fee of  $150 is substantial — that will deny access to justice for many Albertans," Irfan Sabir told reporters.

Sabir said the struggles of the justice system are due in part to UCP cuts.

"Now they're shifting the burden to fix this backlog onto working Albertans while increasing costs and taking away their access to justice," he said.

With files from Elissa Carpenter, CBC News


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