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Speeding tickets not always doomed by missing info: B.C. court

The B.C. Court of Appeal set aside a lower court victory for a man who was able to quash a speeding ticket because it didn't identify exactly which traffic control device he failed to obey. (Travis Kingdon/CBC - image credit)
The B.C. Court of Appeal set aside a lower court victory for a man who was able to quash a speeding ticket because it didn't identify exactly which traffic control device he failed to obey. (Travis Kingdon/CBC - image credit)

In a decision destined to dash the dreams of leadfooted armchair lawyers, British Columbia's top court has thrown cold water on the commonly-held myth a poorly written speeding ticket is an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card.

In a ruling released this week, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned a lower court victory for a man who was able to quash a speeding ticket because it didn't identify exactly which traffic control device he failed to obey.

In a unanimous decision, the three appeal court judges said assessing a ticket's "sufficiency" involves "considering not only the ticket's wording but all materials in the accused's possession" — including what an officer said when the ticket was issued.

And even if that weren't the case, the top court says the Judicial Justices of the Peace who preside over traffic court have the power to amend tickets before trial.

"On one level, this appeal concerns a $121 speeding ticket. On another, it concerns the circumstances in which a judge may quash, rather than amend a violation ticket," the decision says.

"The broader question has the potential to affect thousands of outstanding violation tickets."

A legal odyssey

Kevin Robinson's journey through the legal system began in May 2021 when a police officer in Abbotsford pulled him over for travelling 97 km/h in a 60-km/h signed zone.

"The officer issued a ticket which described the offence as 'fail to obey traffic control device,'" the decision says.

"The ticket set out details such as the location, date, and description of the vehicle."

Abbotsford police will be targeting speeding drivers. CBC
Abbotsford police will be targeting speeding drivers. CBC

Kevin Robinson's journey through the legal system began in May 2021, when a police officer in Abbotsford pulled him over for travelling 97 km/h in a 60 km/h signed zone. (CBC)

Robinson's first stop was provincial court, where he argued traffic control devices can include signs, meters, signals, lines and marking spaces — and his ticket didn't say which he ignored.

He pointed to legislation which says tickets "must contain sufficient detail of the circumstances of the alleged offence to give to the defendant reasonable information with respect to the act or omission ... and to identify the transaction referred to."

The provincial court Judicial Justice of the Peace didn't bite — finding Robinson guilty of a Motor Vehicle Act contravention.

His next stop was B.C. Supreme Court, where a judge sided with Robinson — quashing the ticket because it failed to sufficiently outline the offence and faulting the lower court for failing to follow precedent set in other cases.

The Crown took the case to the Court of Appeal — which would prove to be a dead end for Robinson's arguments.

'Slightest defect' no grounds for 'nullity'

The appeal court judges said that while the "slightest defect" once rendered an indictment or information "a nullity, the law has moved away from quashing charging documents based on technical defects."

They said the Supreme Court judge who quashed the ticket "did not consider the particulars provided to Mr. Robinson when the ticket was issued to him."

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A Parksville man has been handed the longest sentence ever resulting from a BC Securities Commission fraud investigation.

The three appeal court judges said assessing a ticket's 'sufficiency' involves 'considering not only the ticket's wording but all materials in the accused's possession' — including what an officer said when the ticket was issued. (David Horemans/CBC)

And they noted Robinson didn't challenge testimony from the ticketing officer who said he told Robinson he had disobeyed a speed limit sign when he pulled him over.

But even when tickets are found wanting, the appeal court said judges should be able to amend them.

"Even if the details were insufficient, it was open to the Judicial Justice of the Peace to amend the ticket and to grant an adjournment if that were necessary to avoid prejudice to Mr. Robinson," the decision says.

'That doesn't fly in Canadian courts'

Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee highlighted the decision in a blog.

"It will crush a lot of home lawyers or people who were looking for an easy way out of their tickets," she told CBC.

"It's a commonly held misconception that a mistake on a violation ticket can lead to the ticket being thrown out."

Vancouver defence lawyer Kyla Lee, who specializes in impaired driving cases, doubts the Ophthalight device will hold up to legal challenges.
Vancouver defence lawyer Kyla Lee, who specializes in impaired driving cases, doubts the Ophthalight device will hold up to legal challenges.

Vancouver defence lawyer Kyla Lee says it's a commonly held misconception that a mistake on a violation ticket can lead to be the ticket being thrown out (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Lee says the type of errors that would actually get a ticket thrown out include problems with the time, date or location of the offence — "that strike at the core of the allegation, or if the wrong section was charged entirely."

The appeal court ultimately set aside the order quashing Robinson's ticket and restored his provincial court conviction.

Lee wasn't surprised.

"There's definitely a myth that tickets can be thrown out due to minor errors. I'm not sure how the myth got perpetuated, because I've never seen anything that would suggest otherwise," she said.

Lee says the only basis she can think of comes from the United States, where some jurisdictions are very particular about the details of traffic tickets.

"Unfortunately what we get often in our Canadian legal system is the permeation of U.S. ideas about how justice is to be delivered," she says.

"But that doesn't fly in Canadian courts."