The role of RoadSafetyBC
Even lawyers like us, who deal with RoadSafetyBC each day, find this particular government office an unanswered puzzle. You may recall that back in May the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles officially changed its name to RoadSafetyBC. The name change, although presumably intended to express clarity of purpose, seems to further highlight the contradictory nature of their purpose. The name expresses very clearly that this is a government office that advocates for road safety. Although it’s a laudable goal, should it be the role of a government office that is also responsible for adjudication of disputes between individuals and the Government? This is a conundrum. What is the role of RoadSafetyBC?
On their website RoadSafetyBC says that their mission is:
To lead the development and implementation of effective road safety policies. We work in collaboration with our partners and stakeholders to maximize safe and responsible operation of motor vehicles in B.C.
Essentially what this says is that RoadSafetyBC develops policies while working with their stakeholders (i.e. the people and organizations who advocate for certain policies) to regulate driving with the goal of making it safer. So the role of RoadSafetyBC is policy development and advocacy of certain policies.
Also on their website RoadSafetyBC defines its vision:
[O]ur vision is to have the safest roads in North America and work toward an ultimate goal of zero traffic fatalities.
Again, this is a laudable, albeit probably completely unrealistic goal.
What about all of those other things?
From our experience we see that RoadSafetyBC has contradictory purposes. The first, as advertised, is to advocate for road safety. That means that they must push an agenda to create laws that have this as their end goal. They advocate to punish people who have allegedly violated the law.
The second purpose is to adjudicate disputes between individuals and the government with their tribunal. They make decisions about whether any particular individual has violated the law. They make the decisions concerning the actual application of the laws in disputes between the Government (in the form of RoadSafetyBC) and individuals.
A significant contradiction
This is a significant contradiction from our perspective. By being advocates, on the face of it RoadSafetyBC has an interest in the outcome of proceedings before their tribunal.
Obviously this is disconcerting. The push and pull between the two conflicting roles affects the way people view RoadSafetyBC. Is it an advocacy organization with a mission and a vision as outlined above, or is it a tribunal? Remember a tribunal in such a position should dispassionately adjudicate in accordance with the law and thereby protect individuals from the coercive power of the government.
A third factor
We regularly request disclosure of internal RoadSafetyBC documents pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. When we get it, often only after having to complain to the Privacy Commissioner, we see large portions of the requested material redacted. RoadSafetyBC has to explain their reasoning for each redaction. In our dispute with RoadSafetyBC concerning the redacted disclosure, they argued in essence that they were an arm of law enforcement and that disclosure of the requested material would be harmful to law enforcement.
Refusing disclosure on the grounds that it pertains to law enforcement and would be harmful to law enforcement suggests that RoadSafetyBC views itself as part of policing and as an arm of the police. This would be a third role of RoadSafetyBC that seems to stand in direct contradiction with the role of adjudication.
What should be the role of RoadSafetyBC?
Should RoadSafetyBC be an arm of the police? Should RoadSafetyBC be an advocacy organization answering to perceived stakeholders? Should RoadSafetyBC be a tribunal responsible for upholding the law and protecting individuals when the police or the government do wrong?
In our view RoadSafetyBC should never view itself or any of its mandate as involved in the work of law enforcement. Such a role stands in direct conflict with the role of adjudication. This was their justification for refusing us the internal documents that we requested. We disputed this before the Privacy Commissioner, who adjudicated between us on the one hand and RoadSafetyBC on the other.
Our precise complaint was that RoadSafetyBC adjudicators do not function as law enforcement. The Privacy Commissioner agreed with us and ordered the requested material disclosed.
This all brings to the fore the issue of what should be the role of RoadSafetyBC. Law enforcement, in our view, should never be their role. Advocacy could be their role, if their work doesn’t involve adjudicating. Then again, adjudicating could be their role if they’re not involved in the business of advocating.
Who are the “Stakeholders”
It is particularly disconcerting to us that RoadSafetyBC has a webpage that identifies “Stakeholders” and “Partners” connected to RoadSafetyBC. The webpage lists organizations, some of which may view themselves as having a vested interest in the outcome of adjudication.
In our mind the Stakeholders should be properly viewed as the people of British Columbia. The people of British Columbia have an interest in safe roads, fair enforcement and transparent adjudication of the laws. The government should represent the people and not lobby groups.