Ruling on a case against a school bus operator, the court said the province's 1997 Wheel Safety Act is unconstitutional because it punishes the vehicle's owner/operator for the offense regardless of who is actually at fault. The law requires an automatic fine of $2,000 to $50,000.
This kind of "absolute liability" is generally reserved for minor offenses, which are punishable by minor penalty. In the case of a wheel separation, the only defense against the charge is to prove the wheel did not, in fact, come off. Due diligence is not a defense.
"You cannot in a democratic society simply deem someone to be guilty of an offense whether they were at fault or not," said Ontario Trucking Assn. president David Bradley. "Nor can you deprive someone of their right to launch a due diligence defense, which is what the wheel-separation law attempted to do."
The OTA has argued that wheel separations tend to result from a combination of factors related to the vehicle's operator, maintenance history, and equipment specification, among others. Yet the law punishes the most convenient victim, rather than addressing thoughtlessness or inefficiency on the part of the true culprit, if any.