Guilty until proven innocent: raising the alarm about changes to Alberta’s traffic ticket system

Former police officer, defence lawyer joining the chorus of those concerned about changes to the way motorists can fight tickets 

By Krista Sylvester | January 11, 2022 |5:00 am

Beginning Feb. 1, those who choose to contest traffic tickets will go through an online process involving an adjudicator instead of traffic court, paying up to $150 to do so.

Photo: Shutterstock

Experts are ringing the alarm about changes to the way Albertans receive and can dispute traffic tickets, with some in the legal field saying it’s a “dismantling of a system in a very opportunistic time.” 

Criminal Trial Lawyers Association (CTLA) president Danielle Boisvert is adding her voice to the chorus of those concerned about Phase Two of the Provincial Administrative Penalties Act and Justice Transformation Initiative being implemented on Feb. 1. 

The move was designed to divert approximately two million traffic tickets away from provincial court, essentially eliminating in-person traffic court and moving online. 

However, in doing that, the system is taking away Albertans’ rights to dispute their tickets. 

“You have a government that’s now putting in a system that is taking away your right to have any form of independent or impartial judges, whether it’s a Provincial Court judge, or a traffic commissioner, which is what we’ve had up to this point, decide on whether you did something wrong,” Boisvert explains. 

“We feel that this is basically a dismantling of a system in a very opportunistic time, in the shadows of COVID during a fifth wave when people are not paying attention. And they expect people either not to notice or to be unable to protest and speak up.”

A slippery slope 

In the current system, Albertans receive traffic tickets with a court date and they are able to speak with a traffic commissioner about lowering the fine or reducing the demerits. 

As of Feb. 1, Albertans will instead have only one week to review a ticket with an adjudicator online, and there will be a non-refundable fee of up to $150, depending on the amount of the fine itself. 

“We have an open public court system that is being replaced by government-appointed people who are making decisions in the privacy of offices behind closed doors and out of public view.” 

And those decisions aren’t necessarily reported or accessible to the public, either in the same way that many current traffic decisions are. 

“The system is essentially putting all of the decision making power into the police officers hands because whatever those police officers put into their reports, is going to become their gospel truth in front of a government adjudicator,” Boisvert says, adding the timelines are so short that people will barely have time to get counsel to figure out their best options. 

“How are you going to test that evidence without in-person cross-examination or any ability to ask further questions of that officer?” 

Guilty until proven innocent 

Charlie Pester, a former police officer who fights tickets on behalf of Calgarians with POINTTS, echoes much of the same concerns as lawyers do. 

He says these changes will see a rise in tickets being handed out with “no discretion” for serious offences that will then lead to higher insurance rates for those receiving them. 

“You’re guilty until proven innocent, you have no right to a trial, you have to pay to play to challenge them. Their adjudicators are handpicked to be convictors, I can guarantee you that,” Pester warns. 

“And it’s not just police evidence, it’s anybody. So, let’s say I’m driving down the road, and I don’t like the way you’re driving. I can call in to have you given a ticket, and I’m not subject to cross-examination — you have to prove what I said is not true.” 

An unfair system designed to “drive up conviction rates”

Pester says all of these changes will result in more convictions. 

“You’ve got no chance. I mean, in essence, unless you have video evidence proving you didn’t do it, you’re gonna get convicted of all this garbage.”

Both Pester and Boisvert believe these changes will end up clogging the court system even more when people take their fight to the federal court in appeals. 

The Alberta government provided a statement to the Calgary Citizen confirming they are expanding the SafeRoads program, which is why many of the changes are being implemented. 

“That review is currently underway. We hope to make an announcement soon,” Rob Williams, press secretary for the Minister of Transportation said in an email. 

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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