Reference RE British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act.

The British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act was the subject of a significant Supreme Court of Canada reference titled Re BC Motor Vehicle Act, [1985] 2 SCR 486, which raised important legal issues. By establishing a fault component for all offenses with legal repercussions, the decision created one of the earliest basic justice concepts in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”), beyond merely natural justice. 


Driving when your license is suspended is an absolute liability infraction under Section 94(2) of the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act. Regardless of whether the motorist was aware of the ban, the Crown just needed to prove that they were driving in order to secure a conviction. A successful conviction entailed a minimum seven-day sentence in jail.

According to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, the Act violated a basic fairness principle under section 7 of the Charter.


The principles of fundamental justice are violated, according to Lamer J., writing for a unanimous court, when someone has absolute accountability for an offense regardless of whether they took any steps to avoid being at blame. The Charter is violated if there is a chance that someone could be deprived of their life, liberty, or personal security as a result of an absolute liability infraction. Except in extraordinary circumstances, section 1 of the Charter cannot be used to defend a statute that contradicts section 7. (for example, natural disasters, outbreaks of war, epidemics). 

The fundamental justice principles apply a more stringent standard than section 1 does. Therefore, section 1 is unlikely to protect any law that contravenes the fundamental justice standards.

The ruling also established basic justice as more than a procedural right akin to due process; it also protects substantive rights, even though these rights ran opposite to the original drafters of the Charter. This case was significant and contentious in this regard.



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