Proposed traffic court changes decried

Justice: Opponents of Provinces' proposal say tickets deserve day in court

By: Darlene Casten

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014 06:00 am

People wait for traffic court hearings outside the Okotoks Provincial Court House. Proposed changes to the Province’s traffic court system are being heavily criticized.
People wait for traffic court hearings outside the Okotoks Provincial Court House. Proposed changes to the Province’s traffic court system are being heavily criticized.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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People inside and outside the justice system are calling for proposed changes to Alberta’s traffic court system to be given the red light.

The Province released a report outlining the proposed changes to the traffic court system earlier this year. The proposal would see traffic court moved from the courtroom and prosecutors, defense lawyers and justices of the peace would be done away with.

Under the plan, the process would be moved out of the courtroom and replaced by an administrative system where those who want to fight a ticket would meet with an adjudicator and represent themselves. Disputes would then be sent to an administrative tribunal. Alberta Justice spokesperson Ian Roddick said the qualifications of an adjudicator and administrative tribunal have not been decided yet.

There is resistance to the proposed changes in Okotoks and across the province.

MD of Foothills resident Lenard Biscope was in Okotoks Provincial Court Monday to deal with a traffic matter. He said the government doesn’t have the right to change the justice system for those facing traffic tickets.

“Everybody is entitled to a hearing before a judge and to face their accusers,” Biscope said.

If people need to wait for hours to deal with their tickets, that should not matter, he added.

The proposal comes after the Province looked at the state of the justice system in Alberta, particularly with the issue of timeliness. The issue was raised after a sexual assault case in Airdrie was thrown out because it took too long to get to trial.

There are concerns in Okotoks over the volume of cases in the court system.

Hundreds of names cover 26 pages of the docket in Okotoks Provincial court most Mondays for traffic day. Over the past two weeks 250 to 350 names appeared on the traffic docket in Okotoks and those with tickets can wait for hours to see a first appearance prosecutor or the traffic prosecutor in court to have their matter heard.

Criminal court sits in Okotoks from Tuesday to Friday and is also very busy. Trials typically are scheduled more than a year away.

Dave Burroughs has been the traffic prosecutor in Okotoks for just over two years and has been doing the job for 11 years. He says the proposed changes are concerning.

Burroughs said there are likely between 20 to 25 such prosecutors across the province, who handle infractions from 22 provincial acts, including the wildlife act, liquor and gaming act, fisheries act and forestry act. Burroughs said penalties under some of these acts, including the traffic and safety act can be severe and should be handled in a courtroom.

For example, he said the penalty for a no-insurance ticket is $2,875 for a first offender, but can be as high as $20,000. Some tickets can result in a driver’s license suspension and even jail time, he adds. Fines under the wildlife act can reach $100,000, he continued.

“Will they take jail away and increase the fines? Or will they put it in criminal court and further clog the system.”

In Okotoks, he said the pressure on criminal and traffic court is expected to be relieved when the Turner Valley courthouse opens next month.

The Wildrose Party has also spoke out against PC proposal for traffic court.

“Every Albertan has the right to be heard, if the state has accused them of a traffic crime and they want to protest the charge,” said Wildrose justice critic Shayne Saskiw in a press release last week. “From eliminating a citizen’s right to trial to removing a citizen’s right to face his or her accuser, these proposed changes gut our civil liberties. We should always be looking for efficiencies in our court systems, but such changes cannot cost us our basic, fundamental legal rights.”

Roddick said they consulted with judges, Alberta sheriffs, police and RCMP and lawyers last month and are now compiling the results of their feedback.

He said there is no timeline on making a decision or implementing the proposed changes.


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