Canadian Biker Magazine, January/February 2007
By Daryl Brown
DO YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS LIKE TO RIDE FAST TOGETHER? Do you participate in long distance rallies like the Iron Butt rides? If this is your style, you may be interested to know the federal government has introduced potential legislation that could define your riding routine as criminal conduct.
Bill C-19, is a proposed amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada that would permit judges to levy stiff sentences against those convicted of ‘street racing’. Prompted by a number of recent accidents including the highly publicized death of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable, Jimmy Ng, federal legislators appear to have had enough. Constable Ng died in Richmond, B.C., when a young driver, attempting to out-pace another vehicle, lost control and struck Ng’s unsuspecting patrol car. Similar tragedies have occurred in other provinces and some provincial legislatures have already amended their motor vehicle statutes as a result. While enacting Bill C-19 might sound reasonable at first, it is the definition of street racing that causes concern. To compare the proposed federal amendment, we first need to consider similar provincial legislation.
In British Columbia, the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318, permits authorities to impound your vehicle and suspend your licence if suspected of street racing. Section 241 defines a ‘race’ as: “circumstances in which, taking into account the condition of the road, traffic, visibility and weather, the operator of a motor vehicle is operating the motor vehicle without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway or in a manner that may cause harm to an individual, by doing any of the following:
…outdistancing or attempting to outdistance one or more other motor vehicles; preventing or attempting to prevent one or more other motor vehicles from passing; or driving at excessive speed in order to arrive at or attempt to arrive at a given destination ahead of one or more other motor vehicles;”
Similarly, in Manitoba, s. 189 of the Highway Traffic Act, C.C.S.M. c. H60 prohibits racing on a highway and imposes fines, seizures and suspends driving privileges as deterrents. Interestingly, a ‘race’ is defined as: “a contest of speed between two or more motor vehicles, whether or not the contest involves a prize, when there is an indication of a common intention between the drivers to engage in the contest”. When authorities consider impounding a vehicle for racing, the Manitoba Act permits a peace officer to consider to circumstances including: high speed; sudden or rapid acceleration; location that is as a location for racing; agreement or challenge to race; evidence of a bet or wager; or whether the drivers or passengers knew each other.
In Ontario, sanctions include driving suspensions and fines as the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8 prohibits racing under s. 172 (1): “No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway in a race or on a bet or wager.”
Comparatively, Bill C-19 defines ‘street racing’ as: “operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place.”
Noticeably, unlike British Columbia or Manitoba, ‘race’ is not a defined term in Ontario or in the Bill. This causes concern because the wording has the ability to cast a wider net thus catching individuals found acting in a manner other than what legislators intended. In addition, the Bill will make street racing a specific criminal act similar to dangerous driving. It will not be necessary for an alleged racer to injure or kill anyone. It must only be established an accused was driving in a “manner that was dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances [which] amounted to a marked departure from the standard of care [of] a reasonable person“. If brought into law, anyone convicted of street racing would be left with a criminal record punishable by summary conviction or liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
What does this mean for the average rider? Perhaps nothing. And then again, it may mean vehicles noticeably operating above the speed limit will test the boundaries of a newly imposed law. The federal government believes Cst. Ng and others have died as a result of organized and unorganized races. Unorganized races occur upon a moments notice and involve two or more vehicles. Organized races include the “hat race” or “cannonball run” which engage individuals over long distances for money or prizes. Despite the type of occurrence, the belief is that racing is a no-holds barred event that reflects an attitude of recklessness and must be stopped.
In British Columbia, motorcyclists accused of racing have had their motorcycles impounded and driver’s licence suspended for riding together at excessive speeds. The law has been applied arbitrarily and in a manner discretionary to the individual peace officer. Will Bill C-19 permit a peace officer to exercise the same discretion? Likely so, because without a more specific definition it gives the appearance that anyone riding with at least one other person above the posted limit may be racing. While this writer recognizes the need to ensure public safety, he is concerned a lack of definition will hand constabularies excess power over a few speedy bikers.
– Daryl Brown is a lawyer (www.motorcyclelawyer.ca), former motorcycle safety instructor and past Canadian Motorcycle Drag Racing Association Modified class record holder.
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