Manitoba drivers could have their licence suspended before being convicted

The Safer Roads Act gives MPI the power to suspend the license of a driver who has been charged with a serious offence.
The Safer Roads Act gives MPI the power to suspend the license of a driver who has been charged with a serious offence. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/User: Awmcphee)

A new Manitoba law is raising the hackles of drivers and lawyers alike. The province passed a bill last year that allows Manitoba Public Insurance to suspend a driver’s licence that has been charged with a driving offence, even if the person hasn’t been convicted.

Bill 34, The Safer Roads Act was passed in December 2015, and gives MPI the power to suspend the licence of a driver who has been charged with a serious driving offence. MPI is the only car insurance company in the province, while also being a non-profit crown corporation.

The new law affects driving offences under both the Criminal Code as well as the Manitoba Highway Traffic Act, which include: failure to stop a vehicle at the request of a police officer, speeding by more than 50 km over the limit, dangerous driving and negligent driving causing injury or death.

See: Distracted driving penalties - by province

Drivers have five days, from the day they get the ticket informing them their licence will be suspended, to book a hearing and explain themselves to the MPI in order to try to keep their license. Winnipeg lawyer Kristofer Advent says this is unfair and violates drivers’ rights.

He told CBC News, "They're being put in a position where in order to protect their driver's licence, they have to speak about something they haven't had their day in court [for] yet".

Given that the Canadian Charter states that a person charged with an offence is “presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Advent has a good point, as Manitoba seems to be putting the cart before the horse in punishing drivers before they’re found guilty, which could lead to a charter challenge down the road.

MPI hit back against critics of the law, saying that it created the law to safeguard the public from high-risk drivers and to prevent deaths like that of Kendall Wiebe, a woman who was killed in 2012 by a dangerous driver who had been involved in 11 accidents in 10 years and was found at fault for eight of them.

Will a licence suspension really keep dangerous drivers off the road though? Why not instead impose harsher penalties on drivers convicted of serious driving offences, such as longer jail sentences, to ensure that high-risk drivers are actually kept off the roads?

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