What it takes to be convicted of driving with no insurance

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When an Ontario motorist fails to produce proof of insurance and is charged as a result, police do not have to prove the vehicle is actually uninsured.

So says Justice David Rose of the Ontario Court of Justice in R. v. Belleau, a ruling released this past Monday. Justice Rose overturned the acquittal of a motorist charged with driving a vehicle without insurance.

Angus Belleau was initially acquitted this past June, of driving with no insurance, by Justice of the Peace Adele Romagnoli. So the Crown appealed.

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Belleau was pulled over in March, 2018 by a York Regional Police officer who noticed the sticker was expired. When asked for his driver’s licence, Belleau produced a health card for identification. He also did not have his pink slip. Justice of the Peace Romagnoli convicted Belleau this past June of two charges – driving with a suspended licence and driving without a valid licence plate.

Although Belleau did not prove the vehicle was insured, there was nothing to indicate that the police officer took any further steps to satisfy herself that the vehicle was not insured, Justice of the Peace Romagnoli found.

“I am not aware of the requirement to provide insurance documents or a contract when the officer makes a demand for insurance particulars,” Romagnoli noted in her ruling on a brief trial, released June 26, 2019. “Basically, it’s the insurance slip that gets provided and on that date I am satisfied that the insurance slip wasn’t provided.”

Acquitting Belleau for this reason was an error of law, Justice Rose wrote in his ruling allowing the Crown appeal, released Nov. 18.

“Once it is established that the driver was the owner of the car and could not produce proof of valid insurance upon demand the offence is complete,” wrote Justice Rose. “The owner/driver has a due diligence defence, but it is wrong in law to say that the Crown must prove the absence of insurance to the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt by leading evidence that no insurance company had coverage for the vehicle in question.”

Separately, the province approved electronic proof of auto insurance this past September.

Section 2 (1) of Ontario’s Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act stipulates that no owner or lessee of a motor vehicle may operate the motor vehicle, or cause or permit the motor vehicle to be operated, on a highway unless the motor vehicle is insured under a contract of automobile insurance.

In his ruling released Nov. 18, Justice Rose fined Bellaeu $5,000. By not requiring proof from the Crown that no insurer was covering Belleau’s vehicle at the time he was driving it, Justice Rose cited R. v. Zachariou, released in 1999 by the Ontario Court of Justice.

There needs to be a mechanism in place whereby police can quickly ascertain whether a vehicle is insured, Justice Ian MacDonnell wrote in Zachariou. Otherwise the objectives of the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act would be undermined.

“Imposing an obligation on the owner to obtain insurance ensures that when accidents happen, as all too frequently they do, compensation will be available — especially for those who are not at fault,” is how Justice MacDonnell described the aim of CAIA in Zachariou.

A BMW was spotted by York Regional Police Constable Amy Oliver near Yonge St. and Highway 7 in Richmond Hill on March 22, 2018. She pulled over the vehicle because the sticker was expired. After Belleau presented his health card as identification, Constable Oliver was able to search the Ministry of Transportation computer system to find his driver’s licence number and vehicle permit number.

Oliver had indicated that Belleau had still not produced proof of insurance by the time of the trial this past June, Justice Rose wrote.