News Local

Fare crusader fights transit power

By Erica Bulman, 24 Hours Vancouver

Colin Desjarlais has the BCCLA's backing in allegations that his privacy laws are being breached in a new transit collection plan. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)

Colin Desjarlais has the BCCLA's backing in allegations that his privacy laws are being breached in a new transit collection plan. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is backing a Vancouver resident's fight against a provincial plan that would prevent drivers with unpaid transit fare evasion fines from renewing a licence or vehicle registration.

Colin Desjarlais has filed a complaint with ICBC, alleging privacy laws will be breached if personal information is shared between B.C.'s Crown insurance company and transit authority, TransLink.

Desjarlais - who admits he's contesting a ticket he was slapped with for failing to validate a prepaid fare card on the SkyTrain - said the B.C. government is going too far with the new powers it has given TransLink.

"It's not right. This has to do with TransLink and me, not my drivers licence," Dejarlais told 24 hours. "How dare you access my driving record when it had nothing to with a motor vehicle.

"I understand their intentions but there has to be another way to collect the fines."

The province announced Monday it was giving TransLink new powers to go after fare cheats, including the authority to impose and collect fines, use collection agencies, set fine amounts and resolve disputes.

TransLink will get the revenue from the fines, estimated at $4 million annually. The changes are expected to take effect this summer.

Desjarlais must first file an informal complaint with ICBC. If unsatisfied with the response, he may take his complaint to the B.C. privacy commissioner. Micheal Vonn, the BCCLA's policy director, however, said the commissioner might not even have a say.

While the sharing of information between agencies is usually considered a breach of privacy, the government can simply create an exemption.

"Don't ever forget the government makes those privacy laws. When they want to carve out an exemption to their own privacy and access legislation, they do," Vonn said. "They've been doing this more and more and more. It's becoming something of a terrible habit.

"Our privacy laws, once considered some of the best in Canada, have been consistently watered down over the years."

The only potential recourse would be filing a constitutional challenge, Vonn added.

Aside from the privacy issue, she questioned whether it was a disproportional punishment to deny drivers with outstanding fare evasion tickets their licence or registration.

"Failure to pay $2.25 ($2.50) would mean denied identification, the ability to drive, which could be ability to go to work, get kids to school, etcetera. We need to ask ourselves if this is a proportionate response."

She also questioned if such a measure would be effective enough to justify changing the law in a way that affects peoples' privacy.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom estimated Monday only 30% of those who get fare evasion tickets have a driver's licence.

"Part of the calculation of any law is what are you gaining for what you are losing? Is it doing something important for society?"

BCCLA executive director David Eby said his team would be "closely monitoring" Desjarlais' case.