The Traffic Court component of the Provincial Court deals primarily with ticketable (summary offence tickets) offences under the Highway Traffic Act, the Motorized Snow Vehicles and All Terrain Vehicles Act, and various municipal or institutional parking by-laws or regulations. Such offences are regulatory in nature meaning the prosecutor need not establish any intention. Rather, the prosecutor need only establish, albeit beyond a reasonable doubt, the occurrence of the prohibited act. If the prosecutor makes out a prima facie case, i.e. that there is some evidence of the commission of the prohibited act by the accused or by the person (e.g. the owner of the vehicle) who is deemed by law to be potentially responsible, the accused will be found guilty unless the accused raises a reasonable doubt that the act was committed or that the accused was responsible at law or establishes on a balance of probabilities that one or more of the limited defences set out below apply:
- Due diligence, i.e., all reasonable care was taken to prevent the prohibited act, but not withstanding that the prohibited act occurred anyway.
- Mistake of fact, i.e., the accused had a reasonably held and honest belief in a set of facts which if true would have rendered the accused innocent.
- Officially induced error, i.e., that an official with the appropriate authority induced the accused to act in the manner now complained of.
- Necessity, i.e., that there was no way to comply with the law without jeopardizing life or safety or committing a more serious offence.
These defences are not easy but are not impossible to establish in the right circumstances.
Generally, the penalties imposed by the Court for breach of such offences are fines with time to pay. Probation orders are also sometimes imposed. There are however, exceptions to this. Persons convicted of driving without licences or while suspended or prohibited from driving may be and are in some cases subject to terms of imprisonment of up to 3 to 6 months. Regulatory penalties such as suspension of licence or imposition of demerit points may be imposed by the Motor Registration Division. The Court has no say in this.
Persons placed on probation or bail with conditions restricting their lawful ability to be able to drive or be in the care or control of motor vehicles are subject to imprisonment if they are caught in breach of the court order. Breach of such conditions can result in terms of imprisonment of up to 2 years.
Those charged with offences upon the highways and byways of the province should pay close attention to the documents served upon them by law enforcement officers, and should keep the originals or a copy of the documents for later reference. This is because while many ticketable offences may be settled without appearing in Court there are times when a person must appear personally in Court and the failure to do so can lead to criminal charges and even denial of bail. If there is any doubt one should consult legal counsel or at least contact the relevant court centre in advance of any default dates.