Ottawa, provinces at odds over ticketing
OTTAWA • A long-running dispute between some provinces and Ottawa means only parts of the country can hand out tickets for federal statutory offences, and internal justice department reports have repeatedly warned about the consequences of this “uneven” application of law.
The internal reports, written in 2010 and 2017, say that if ticketing agreements aren’t signed with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, it exposes the government to legal risk, exacerbates the trouble with court delays, and hampers the work of peace officers.
“This is not compatible with the proper application of the rule of law and a departmental strategy to effectively address this significant issue does not appear to be in place,” the March 2017 report says.
It also warns the problem will only get worse with the coming legalization of marijuana.
It all stems from the Contraventions Act of 1992, which enabled the government to classify some offences as contraventions that can be dealt with through a ticket and fine, rather than by summary conviction in the courts.
In effect, the Contraventions Act allows for decriminalizing minor federal offences. It frees up court resources, and people receiving a ticket are not left with a criminal record.
However, to avoid duplicating resources, the Contraventions Act currently relies on provincial systems for serving the tickets and providing avenues of appeal. This means the federal government must sign an agreement with a province to make the ticketing system operational there.
The holdout provinces have concerns about training, funding and language rights, among other issues.
More than 1,000 offences have been designated contraventions. Trespassing on a military base, damaging an archeological site, or illegally hunting a migratory game bird can all be penalized with a ticket — except in the three provinces without an agreement, where a person would have to be formally charged and prosecuted in the courts.
As one example, in Banff and Jasper, tickets can’t be used for National Park Act offences because the parks are in Alberta. The report estimates that 90 per cent of such offences in British Columbia’s national parks are dealt with through tickets.
The legal risk was identified in an internal justice department report in 2010, which stated: “It creates a situation whereby the exact same unlawful behaviour that would contravene a federal statutory offence designated as a contravention is treated differently, based on the geographical location of the offender. This could trigger legal risks, particularly in provinces where the Act is not operational, in light of the fact that offenders are exposed to greater penalties.”
The new report, completed this spring, shows little progress.
It notes that law enforcement officials who can’t use tickets often just let people off with a warning to avoid the cumbersome court process and its disproportionately serious consequences. The resulting lack of enforcement encourages “non-compliance,” the report warns.
Though it was written before the cannabis legislation was released, the report mentions marijuana legalization as a potential problem.
The proposed federal bill does set out “ticketable offences” for minor marijuana infractions — however, instead of relying on the Contraventions Act, the bill sets up an entirely new ticketing scheme, meaning they will remain criminal offences. (Even so, the legislation carefully specifies payment of these tickets will not result in a searchable criminal record.)
The justice department says it’s still in negotiations with provinces around how exactly these new cannabis ticketing offences will work.
It says it’s on the verge of finalizing an agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador, and will develop a strategy for the others.
“The Department of Justice is pursuing the interest of Alberta and Saskatchewan in implementing the contraventions regime in their respective jurisdictions, having exchanged relevant information about the implementation’s legal and operational requirements,” spokesperson Simon Rivet told the National Post.
But while Alberta confirmed it’s in discussions, Saskatchewan has not talked with the government about contraventions in “several years” and federal interest has been “sporadic,” said spokesperson Noel Busse.
“There are reservations about the implementation of the Contraventions Act in Saskatchewan at this time for several reasons, including its impact on electronic systems reform, language rights issues and whether proceeding with federal ticketing now might result in more confusion or complexity,” he said.
Some pot infractions could become “ticketable offences.”