Critics say police misusing new street-racing laws



Ontario's police forces haven't been shy about using their new powers under the province's eight-month-old legislation against street racing.

The legislation gives police the power to seize cars and licences on the spot if drivers are charged with street racing or stunt driving.

As of May 20, police had laid 5,139 street-racing or stunt-driving charges since the law was enacted on Oct. 1.

On average, police are seizing 22 cars and 22 drivers licences every day.

But Greg Burd, an Ontario paralegal with 20 years experience, says the new laws duplicate ones that already exist, and just jack up the fines and penalties.

He gives the example of turning left on a red light ahead of oncoming traffic.

"Before [the new legislation was passed], it was a two-demerit-point, $85 ticket. Now its a minimum $2,000 and [authorities] can take your licence for six months," said Burd.

"The same goes with careless driving. They've repeated it in the new legislation and have just given it a different name," he said.

Burd says he believes police are taking advantage of the new legislation by laying the more serious charges to penalize drivers on the spot. Police used to only be able to lay a charge, now they can take away cars and licences before going to court.

More than 5,000 drivers have been charged since the law took effect, but according to statistics provided by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General to CBC News, the conviction rate is only about 33 per cent.

As of April 1, 1,080 street-racing cases have gone to trial, with 325 convictions. According to the ministry, 526 cases were reduced to speeding, while 229 were either withdrawn, dismissed or stayed.

The fines for those convicted ranged from $2,000 to $10,000, but some fines have been as little as $200.
Criticism is 'uninformed': Fantino

Police say the new legislation is making streets safer.

Julian Fantino, chief of the Ontario Provincial Police, says the criticism is "uninformed."

Speed-related fatalities, according to Fantino, are down almost 42 per cent from the same time last year, proof that the tough laws work.

But in more than 1,000 street-racing cases that have gone to trial so far, almost half the drivers have pleaded down to a lesser charge that carries no roadside suspension.

By then, their cars and licences have already been taken away, as well as the towing and legal fees, which aren't refunded.

But the answer is pretty simple: obey the rules of the road and you won't get caught...

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