Every Canadian is entitled to the lesser penalty when there is a questions of enforceability of legislation due to a change
Give citizens the benefit of the doubt
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The Quebec government’s response to the Duguay challenge on its speeding laws is wholly unacceptable. When Charles Duguay, a consulting engineer in the Eastern Townships, received a speeding ticket under the new rates he found them unconscionable. So do many of us. The ticket he got was $718 and 10 points. Under the old system it would have been $250 and 5 points. He decided to do something about it.
He went to his lawyers, Heenan Blaikie a national firm, and set to work. Me Claude Villeneuve and Me Dominique Gilbert soon discovered an anomaly in the law. While the bill setting up the new infractions was passed into law, the old legislation with the old rates was never officially abrogated as is required by law.
They took the position that the new legislation had no validity until the old was annulled and that their client, Mr. Duguay, should be penalized under the old rates. The province was quite embarrassed and for a few days didn’t know what to say. It seems that somebody missed the ball on this one.
When the government finally did pronounce itself, it took the usual draconian position of governments. Mr. Duguay would be penalized under the new rates until his lawyers challenged the laws in court. That’s like challenging a revenue assessment. First you pay then you wait. And spend your money in court.
The obvious reason for this intransigence is that there is a lot of money at stake. Since the new regulations came into effect the SQ alone has written 19,815 tickets. And this since June 2008. The government decided to spend even more public money to protect the tickets it had handed out. It has put together a legal team composed of lawyers from the Attorney-General’s office, the office of criminal prosecutions and the SAAQ. Wow, all this over a ticket. And yet with all this legal muscle the Crown attorneys asked for one delay in the Duguay and have now asked for another pushing it back to February 26, 2010. Now can o ne imagine what a citizen is supposed to do if the number of points puts him over the limit and he is not allowed to drive. How is he supposed to earn a living?
Of course when Minister of Transport Julie Boulet, who had introduced the new penalties, was approached for a comment her spokespeople refused all questions. Might they be a bit embarrassed that this Minister was in her official limo just days after the new rates were announced and the limo was pulled over for speeding! The official explanation was that Minister Boulet was asleep in the back seat and hadn’t noticed her driver’s “lapse”.
To any reasonable person this kind of policy is unfair and inequitable. In the revenue case, laws are not just merely because they are laws. But at least they are laws. In this case, the new speeding laws have no effect by our very own definition! In what good conscience can the province enforce new regulations that have no weight of proper legal process?
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states unequivocally that every Canadian is entitled to the lesser penalty when there is a questions of enforceability of legislation due to a change. The Federal Interpretation Act also states that the more lenient penalty should always be applied when there is “ambiguity” in the law. The Charter does apply even to Quebec’s Highway Code.
Few will remember, but our national income tax had a bit of the same problem.It was introduced as a temporary measure to finance World War I. In the 1920s, several enterprising lawyers realized that the enabling legislation to make it permamnent was never done. The compromise that was reached gave birth to our present day system of tax collection which is governed by the honor system and the fairness doctrine. That is, citizens are prima facie believed on what they report because in this country unlike even the United States, it is recognized that government does not have an absolute moral authority. Citizens are given the benefit of the doubt.
It might be a good idea if the Quebec transport and justice departments took the same tack.