Canadian Supreme Court denies petition to hear speed limiter appeal

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 5/5/2016

The Supreme Court of Canada announced Thursday morning that they would not hear an appeal by the widow of a Canadian OOIDA member who challenged Ontario’s speed limiter mandate on the grounds that it created an unsafe working environment.

No reason was given by the court, which is not atypical, according to attorney David Crocker, who represented the late Gene Michaud, an OOIDA member from St. Catherines, Ontario, who was given a speeding ticket in 2009 and fought it nearly all the way to the highest level of his nation’s court.

“This brings to an end our long journey,” Crocker said via email Thursday. “We put up a good fight.”

OOIDA President Jim Johnston admitted the appeal was a longshot, but he praised the efforts of Michaud and his wife Barbara, who carried on with the case after her husband passed in 2013, and the efforts of attorney David Crocker, who represented the Michauds throughout the lengthy legal battle.

“While this is disappointing, I can’t say it’s a surprise,” Johnston said. “We knew from the start it was a long shot. Obviously, if there is ever going to be a solution to the speed limiter issue, it is going to have to come through the legislature. And that will take large numbers of truckers willing to make the necessary contacts and standing up for their rights.”

What began as a traffic ticket against Michaud in 2009 transformed into a full-on constitutional challenge of the law itself, with Michaud arguing that speed limiters violated his right to personal safety and security under Sec. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

When reached Thursday morning, Barbara Michaud said she and her late husband were grateful for the support they received from truckers and from OOIDA.

“My late husband Gene asked me to continue this for him knowing I believed that the speed limiter was very unsafe for all of us sharing the highways with the big rigs,” she said. “I was wishing the Supreme Court had more common sense than the Ontario government, but like the Ministry of Transport in Ontario said back last September, they didn’t care about the safety of truckers, and saying that, they certainly don’t care about the public either.”

Michaud’s challenge began not long after Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation began enforcing legislation to cap the top road speed of trucks. As part of a routine inspection, Michaud’s truck was found to be limited at 68 mph, not at or below 65 mph. He believed 65 mph was arbitrary and purposely set his limiter at 68 mph, which was closer to – but still below – the regular flow of traffic on major Ontario highways and in the U.S. where he ran many of his miles.

In 2012, an Ontario traffic court judge sided with Michaud and declared that the provincial law harmed his ability to operate safely. In addition to tossing Michaud’s ticket for violating the mandate, Justice Brett A. Kelly called the law “arbitrary” and said it violated the principles of fundamental justice because it did not make the roads safer.

The province appealed the traffic court’s decision, but Michaud, who was in poor health at that time, passed away before that appeal went to court. With permission from the court and the opponents, Barbara was allowed to carry on the case on his behalf.

Johnston commended the Michauds for their “valiant effort” to stand up for the rights of all professional truckers on the issue.

Last year, a majority of the Ontario Court of Appeals – the highest court in the province – acknowledged and stated clearly that the law endangers the personal safety of truck drivers, but ruled in favor of the province, stating that the threat to truckers is outweighed by the supposed safety needs of having big trucks drive more slowly. The court cited a separate section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, saying the speed limiter law can stand and be considered constitutional if it shows and justifies a broad societal interest.

OOIDA has backed the case against mandatory speed limiters in Ontario since Michaud began fighting a citation he received for not having a speed limiter set at or below the prescribed maximum. The Association viewed the Canadian challenge as important not just north of the border, but in the U.S. as well.

Many Canadian trucks operate on U.S. highways, and the ones from Ontario and Quebec are speed-limited, creating speed differentials among vehicles on U.S. roads. In addition, U.S. trucks going into Ontario or Quebec are required to set their speed limiters – requiring a shop visit to adjust the computer settings – at or below 65 mph (measured in Canada as 105 kilometers per hour) or face fines and penalties in those provinces.

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