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Critics slam 'outrageous' changes to how traffic tickets are handled and disputed in Alberta


Changes to how traffic tickets are handed out and disputed are coming soon in Alberta.

The provincial government is moving to Phase Two of the Provincial Administrative Penalties Act and Justice Transformation Initiative next month and it will essentially eliminate traffic court, instead moving the process online.

"In essence what it is that, instead of you having the right to a trial, you do not get to go to trial. Instead of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, you're presumed guilty until proven innocent," said Charlie Pester, a former police officer who currently fights traffic tickets with POINTTS Calgary.

The changes are being done to streamline the process and free up more court and policing resources, according to the government.

About two million traffic tickets will be diverted away from court, provincial documents state, and it will free up at least ten prosecutors who will be able to handle criminal matters instead.

But Pester says the changes will lead to a backwards system he calls "outrageous."

Instead of getting a speeding or distracted driving ticket with a court date on it, it'll all be handled digitally through an online portal. People will instead have just a week to review a ticket with an adjudicator rather than a judge. The cost to review is a non-refundable fee of up to $150, depending on the amount of the fine.

"There's no court, there's no cross-examination, there's no witnesses. This is simply: if you're charged, you have to prove you didn't do it and you have to pay more money to do that," Pester said.

CTV News requested an interview with Alberta's transportation minister and was instead sent a short statement.

"Alberta’s government has stated it will be expanding the SafeRoads program. That review is currently underway. We hope to make an announcement soon," it reads.

The Calgary Police Service says training for the new process will start next week, ahead of its February 1st implementation. The service says it cannot talk about the changes further until the province makes a formal announcement.

"With a judge of the court, they can reduce the amount of a ticket or they can give you more time to pay. Under this regime, it's just confirm or cancel. So there are far fewer powers this tribunal has," said Brynne Harding, a lawyer with Bennett Jones and teacher at the University of Calgary.

Harding says this next step in the program will free up court resources, something that is much-needed to address a backlog of cases in the province, but it will also add additional hurdles for people wanting to challenge their traffic tickets.

"Now you're going to have to challenge your ticket to a government body and the government body has stricter rules and fewer powers than the court has. So, basically, there are fewer challenge options now than there used to be," Harding said.

Phase Three of the program will extend to all fines in Alberta, but a timeline for when that transition will happen hasn't been decided and will be determined based on how the second phase goes.