OPP: racing charges across Wellington adjourned until fall

OPP Staff Sergeant Scott Smith says local courts are having “zero success” in convicting those charged under new racing legislation and all charges in the county have been adjourned until October.

Smith made that revelation recently during a presentation to Mapleton Township council.

He said some individuals – from government critics to regular citizens – are opposed to the Ontario legislation, which was introduced last October, claiming it is “unconstitutional.”

The matter may eventually play out before the Supreme Court, Smith hinted, but until it is settled, local charges will remain in limbo.

Critics claim the conviction rate is too low to justify the charges when the drivers may never be found guilty of racing.

Some also claim the legislation violates the nation’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it provides an up-front penalty for those accused of racing – a seven day vehicle seizure and licence suspension – before they are proven guilty in court.

An online petition to that effect, addressed to the Ontario government, has received almost 6,000 signatures to date.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Attorney General Chris Bentley have supported the legislation, while the Conservatives and NDP have called for a review of the law.

During the first six months the racing law was in place 1,080 racing charges were laid in Ontario.

In about half of those cases (526, or 49%) the accused had the charge reduced to speeding, while 229 (21%) had the charge stayed, dismissed, or withdrawn. Only about 30% (325) were actually convicted of racing.

As of the end of June, 77 racing charges were laid this year in Wellington County, with 22 in June alone. Smith said that ranks the county OPP first in the province in terms of the amount of charges laid.

He also echoed the sentiment of OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, who claimed the new legislation is helping to reduce speed-related deaths on the road. Those fatalities are down about 40 per cent in 2008 compared to this time last year, but statistics from the Ministry of Transportation show the number of deaths on Ontario roads has steadily declined since 1980.

Regardless of a possible impending legal battle and perhaps even changes to the legislation, local police are not changing anything.

“We have not received any direction [on the matter],” OPP Constable Mark Cloes said on Tuesday. “It’s still business as usual for us – trying to get people to slow down.”

Provincial Prosecutor Paul Dray, from the Guelph Crown Attorney’s Office, which handles the racing charges for Guelph and Wellington, was unavailable for comment by press time.