Cowichan’s Dan Feehan received what he considers an unwarranted traffic ticket in Grand Forks but has discovered that if you want to fight such a thing you have to be ready to travel.
Last summer, on his way to Alberta, he passed through the Kootenay community one night.
“I was driving about 10 kilometres an hour under the maximum speed limit in Grand Forks at this time last year. I got a ticket about midnight. I went to a lawyer and the lawyer said it’s not an offence unless you’re blocking traffic. There was no traffic around for miles. It was dead silent.
“So, I wanted to plead not guilty to this offence. I got ahold of Court Services and they said: ‘You can’t do that. You have to appear in person in Grand Forks.’”
After calculating, Feehan discovered it would be expensive to make his point.
“I figured that would cost me about $2,000 to take a week off work, get my vehicle and me off the Island, and stay in a hotel for four nights. All to plead not guilty to a fine of $120. It didn’t make any sense for me to travel to Grand Forks and plead not guilty,” he said.
He contacted the Minister of Justice, Susan Anton, and Cowichan Valley MLA Bill Routley, asking if he could appear in court by video.
Routley said it’s an interesting situation.
“I worked on this guy’s behalf. They gave him a ticket for going too slow, which was ridiculous because all he was doing was looking for a place to stay after driving for, like, 12 hours.”
Anton seemed sympathetic to the problem at first.
“I reminded her that seniors in the Cowichan Valley shouldn’t be treated this way. All they want is the same right as a prisoner: access to videoconferencing.”
He pushed harder, asking, “’So why is it that this senior, in order for justice to be served, has to go all the way across British Columbia to this remote, backwater town? Cops or prisoners get to use videoconferencing. It’s just wrong that there are rules for some,” Routley said.
In June, the MLA received a reply from Anton herself.
In it, the Justice Minister said, “I appreciate that you and Mr. Feehan feel it is unjust and unfair… Disputants in traffic matters are required to attend at the court nearest where the alleged offence occurred.”
Otherwise, people like Feehan, who want to attend by video, must apply to a Judicial Justice of the Provincial Court of British Columbia.
That judicial officer then reviews the application and “makes an independent judicial decision based on the information presented,” she said.
Anton reiterated that Judicial Justices are judicial officers of the Provincial Court and function as a separate independent body over which the Ministry of Justice has no authority.
She went on to tell Routley, “I understand that in your constituent’s particular case, an application was made to attend his hearing via teleconference or videoconference; however, it was denied by a Judicial Justice on April 14, 2016. I further understand that ministry officials have spoken to Mr. Feehan to explain this process.”
The minister said Feehan may wish to seek legal advice about his options.
Anton concluded by saying that in light of the information she had shared with Routley, and in recognition of the independence of the judicial branch of government, “I am not in a position to delay Mr. Feehan’s hearing until it can be heard via videoconferencing.”
Feehan said he got a phone call from the Grand Forks Court House.
“They will not allow me to plead on video, they’re refusing me my right to plead innocent unless I go there in person, which is impossible,” he said.
A spokesperson at the Court Registry in Rossland, B.C., said last week that, at this time, there is no such thing as video conferencing in traffic court.
Feehan has to appear himself to dispute his ticket. His application has been denied by a Judicial Justice and his court date was set for Aug. 15 in Grand Forks Traffic Court.
Feehan was still annoyed that police and actual prisoners can appear in court by video, but ordinary people cannot.
“The general public does not enjoy that privilege. If you’re not a prisoner in a prison, then you’re expected to take on the expense yourself to travel to the nearest courthouse to where the offence took place.
“I told them I was simply unable to do that and I wouldn’t do it anyway because it’s ridiculous to spend two grand to save a hundred and twenty bucks.”
Feehan said he was dissatisfied when Anton’s ministry replied that they were trying to make justice more accessible.
However, despite his own and Routley’s best efforts, nothing has changed for him, Feehan said.
What really bothers him is that he has realized he’s not alone.
“Mine is small potatoes but other people may have to plead guilty to much larger offences, simply because the government won’t allow them to appear by video.
“Now I’ve been found guilty because I couldn’t make it. I simply haven’t got the time or the energy or the money to get there. The government just wants you to plead guilty so they can make money off you, knowing full well that you’re actually innocent,” he said.