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Facts[]

Section 94(2) of the Motor Vehicle Act stated that a person who drives a motor vehicle on a highway while license is suspended is guilty of an offence, and is liable to a fine between $300 and $2,000, and imprisonment between a week and six months (on the first offence). This would be true even if the driver was unaware of whether they had an expired licence. The government is arguing that this does not violate s.7 of the Charter.

The Court of Appeal ruled that this violated [1] because absolute liability offences cannot have mandatory prison sentences. Having mandatory prison sentences for crimes that have no defence violates the principles of fundamental justice and the right to be presumed innocent. However, they did not answer whether or not merely having imprisonment available as an option for an absolute offence was contrary to s.7.

Issue[]

  1. Can absolute liability offences have imprisonment available as a punishment?

Decision[]

Appeal dismissed; the section violates s.7 of the Charter and is of no force and effect.

Reasons[]

Lamer, writing for the majority, states that even having imprisonment available as a punishment for an absolute liability offence always violates s.7 of the Charter, and renders the section of the legislation of no force or effect unless it is justified by s.1. He states that the principles of fundamental justice rest not just in the procedural context, but also in our rights. The combination of imprisonment and absolute liability always violates s.7 and must be saved by s.1 in order for it to remain valid. However, doesn’t mean that all absolute offences violate s.7 - only the ones with imprisonment available as a punishment.

Lamer does not find that this section is saved by s.1, as it does not "minimally impair" the impugned right (this judgment is pre-Oakes). In her concurring judgment, Wilson talks more about the objectives of imprisonment, and how they are not served by imprisoning people without a chance to defend themselves.

Ratio[]

  • Absolute liability offences that have imprisonment available as a punishment violate s.7 of the Charter.
  • Imprisonment without a chance of defence is contrary to the principles of fundamental justice.
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