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Call for open driving records largely ignored

Dec 30 2011

The B.C. government appears to have only lukewarm interest in making people's drunk-driving records public, internal documents show.

Government staff have done little work to explore the idea in the past year and a half, since former solicitor general Mike de Jong stated publicly that he would consider opening records to public view, according to documents obtained under Freedom of Information.

The government said in August it was still "considering" de Jong's suggestion.

But internal emails show it had left the idea to languish for almost 15 months by that time, without any research or discussion.

De Jong appeared to catch his own ministry off guard in May 2010 when he told the Times Colonist he would consider setting up a system similar to the one in Ontario, where people can check how many drunk-driving and traffic infractions someone has committed.

"We may want to look at that," de Jong said. "If a driver has been sanctioned for behaviour that society condemns, then there is a reasonable argument that says that information should be readily available."

B.C.'s driving records are currently secret.

The government's tough new impaired-driving sanctions bypass the public court system and are instead considered confidential administrative penalties. That means you might never know if your mayor, MLA, daycare provider or child's school-bus driver has been fined or lost their licence for impaired driving - unless you get their permission to check.

After de Jong mused about following Ontario's lead, staff in his ministry and the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles prepared a briefing note for him on May 14, 2010.

"Allowing public access to any driver's history will impact the entire driving population, including those that have only minor or very few driving or motor vehicle contraventions and those who have their licence cancelled for medical reasons," the briefing note said.

Ontario is the only province in Canada to make driving records public and B.C. would have to research the privacy implications before it amended any laws to allow such a move, the note said.

"The public's right to access administrative records does not automatically override an individual's right to privacy," the note said.

As many as 750,000 people - a quarter of the three million active drivers - would probably want to check out other people's records, and that could have a high operational impact on the Insurance Corporation of B.C., according to the briefing note.

Government staff laid out options and a recommended course of action, but that information was redacted from the briefing note obtained by the Times Colonist.

It appears that de Jong did not make up his mind either, because he did not circle a decision or sign the briefing note.

De Jong was replaced as solicitor general by Rich Coleman late last year and is now B.C.'s health minister.

The current Solicitor General, Shirley Bond, said in November that her staff have been researching Ontario's model in allowing public driving records.

But there are no emails, letters, briefing notes, research papers or documents of any kind to indicate government research on the topic between April 2010 and August 2011.

Bond has also said that, while it is an "interesting idea," it is also "not something I've spent a lot of time thinking about."

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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