Plans to modernize the fines and enforcement of provincial and municipal regulatory offences makes sense and should save Manitobans some considerable inconvenience. At present, even speeding tickets can require appearing before a justice of the peace during business hours, a pain for urbanites, but a significant expense and disruption for rural residents who must travel to provincial court offices in larger towns.
Justice Minister Andrew Swan is amending a variety of statutes -- conservation, animal services, highway traffic acts, for example -- to permit summary-conviction offences to be dealt on the spot with a ticket. The intent is to get minor infractions out of a backlogged provincial court system. Police now, for example, can ticket a speeding driver on the spot, permitting the fine to be mailed in. Or they can also write an offence notice requiring a hearing before a justice of the peace. Similarly, hunting without a licence or tossing garbage out the car window all trigger appearances in front of a JP.
The province will separate minor from serious infractions, retaining a court hearing for the latter. Only those who wish to challenge the validity of a minor offence ticket, or to plead for a lesser fine, will continue to plead to the provincial system. Amendments will also more carefully restrict the power of search and seizure all enforcement officers, including veterinarians, hold now.
Municipalities would run their own screening process to adjudicate minor bylaw infractions, which now are funnelled into the provincial court system. This means municipalities would judge the fairness of tickets issued under their own bylaws, but it also means a screening office could be set up in public areas, such as malls, retail outlets or city buildings outside regular business hours.
The province will be sorting through various statutes to set fines for some offences that are now left to the discretion of a JP or judge. That may produce a windfall to the province, as those being ticketed may well forfeit challenging the cost or validity of the offence notice before a sympathetic justice of the peace, in exchange for the convenience of paying a $100 fine by mail. The province says its intent is to make the new regime as close to revenue-neutral as possible. Fine revenues are easily tracked. If modernizing summary convictions produces a windfall, Mr. Swan should commit to spending that revenue on cutting court backlogs, rather than simply dumping the cash into the treasury.