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The provincial government is eyeing changing how Ontario handles some traffic offences.

The Ministry of the Attorney General has been seeking input since last month from Ontarians on an online “administrative monetary penalty system” (AMPS) that would replace the current procedures for paying and disputing charges under the Provincial Offences Act (POA).

Currently, individuals who wish to dispute their charge can plead not guilty and have a trial before a justice of the peace.

The ministry believes an online AMP system will reduce the significant resources required to enforce municipal bylaws and POA offences.

The City of Toronto is responsible for a high volume of POA charges in the province and “the city has budgeted over $50 million annually for POA courts in recent years,” a consultation document released by the ministry says. “In 2014, the cost of having police officers appear in Toronto POA courts was over $5.5 million.”

With traffic tickets, the charging officer is often the only prosecution witness. Officers have to be prepared to give evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

These procedures stem from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically section 11(d), which reads: “Any person charged with an offence has the right … (d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.”

Stephen Parker, president of the Ontario Paralegal Association, does not see AMPS as a way to improve access to justice.

“It denies a person’s right to challenge the allegation of what is now an offence and be able to only dispute the penalty,” Parker told Paralegal Scope Magazine. “They are promoting this as a cost-cutting initiative for the municipalities and nothing to do with a person’s right to face their accuser.”

While the penalty for traffic tickets from the municipality is a fine, the Ministry of Transportation issues demerit points to drivers for certain offences. Accumulating too many points can lead to licence suspension.

The livelihood of Ontarians may depend on driving, and having their licence suspended for demerit points that they were unable to dispute in a formal court process infringes on another right guaranteed by the Charter, AMPS opponents say.

Jason Pearce, a paralegal for 17 years, believes the AMP system will lead to more costs for drivers.

“There is going to be a significant increase in convictions,” said Pearce. “If the conviction rates go up, you’re going to have higher insurance costs.

“Bottom line is that it’s going to make money for the municipalities, which is wonderful, but do you want to save a buck and lose your rights?”

The deadline to comment on the consultation document is Tuesday. Go online to attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/POA_consultation.asp to participate.

Source: Toronto Sun