CASE LAW - Sisett v British Columbia (Attorney General)

BC Courts Coat of ArmsIan Sisett was stopped by police for driving at an excessive speed near Grand Forks. He received a traffic ticket for that offence and the vehicle he was driving was impounded as required by section 251 MVA. Being without a vehicle, Mr. Sisett rode back to Grand Forks with the tow truck driver and stayed the night while family members arranged transportation back to Kelowna for him.

Mr. Sisett subsequently attempted to have the excessive speeding and impound provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act declared to be contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The following issues were raised:

[12] The petitioners’ somewhat prolix submissions allege a variety of errors. I would group them into three main issues.

[13] First, the petitioners raise arguments as to whether the judge erred by failing to consider that the excessive speeding offence was one of absolute liability. They rely on Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 486, where the Supreme Court held that an absolute liability offence that carries the risk of imprisonment violates s. 7. The petitioners also argue that it infringes the presumption of innocence that they are punished by being ticketed and having their vehicle impounded before a trial.

[14] The second issue arising out of the petitioners’ submissions is whether the judge properly considered the limited avenues for judicial review of the decision by a peace officer to impound a vehicle. The petitioners repeatedly emphasize that the limited procedural mechanisms to challenge the decision to impound a vehicle render the provisions contrary to the Charter.

[15] The third issue raised is whether the chambers judge failed to consider that impounding a vehicle was a disproportionate penalty for the offence of excessive speeding. The petitioners say the judge misconstrued their argument that impounding their vehicle was contrary to the guarantee against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment in s. 12.

The decision of the BC Court of Appeal dismissed Mr. Sisett's appeal.

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