[Photo by Steven Yeh]
Matthew Bruce lives in Alberta and works in the technology industry. He believes there is a direct correlation between unfair speed enforcement and arbitrarily low speed limits. He writes his view that motorists have a right to defend themselves against unfair or unknown enforcement and that right includes the use of laser jammers.
There has been and always will be “tough talk” from some police officers regarding the use of Laser Jammers in provinces that do not have specific laws against their use. They have been known to threaten, and have recommended criminal charges against people caught using these devices.
Section 129 of the criminal code. of the criminal code says: Every one who (a) resists or wilfully obstructs a public officer or peace officer in the execution of his duty or any person lawfully acting in aid of such an officer, (b) omits, without reasonable excuse, to assist a public officer or peace officer in the execution of his duty in arresting a person or in preserving the peace, after having reasonable notice that he is required to do so, or (c) resists or wilfully obstructs any person in the lawful execution of a process against lands or goods or in making a lawful distress or seizure, is guilty of (d) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or (e) an offence punishable on summary conviction.
However, given the very nature of speed traps which use laser enforcement, is it possible to willfully obstruct police if you do not know they are present and executing a duty? Police may intentionally use unmarked cars, hide somewhere on the side of the road or surprise drivers around a turn when using a LIDAR gun at distances of 1000 feet or more. Some officers would have you believe that yes, interfering with the speed trap is obstruction and on a cursory examination of the law it sounds plausible; however recent case law suggests otherwise. Recently, in the British Columbia case of R. v. Langthorne in December of last year a judge ruled that a person cannot willfully obstruct the police if not clearly informed that the police are executing a duty prior to the alleged obstruction.
The transcript of the decision can be read here. The case involved a man who was suspected of having an illegal firearm. Police officers, in an unmarked car, approached the suspect and yelled out “hey!” and “stop!”. The suspect fled/resisted the officers and was charged with jay-walking (an excuse to search him) and obstruction of police. However, the judge in this case acquitted the defendant of all charges because he was not informed by the police that he was being charged with jay-walking before he allegedly obstructed them. The judge is quoted as saying: “In this case, the officers’ …. and their readiness to escalate a common place situation into a scenario of alleged criminal obstruction cannot be countenanced.” and “The effect on the accused was also significant. People must be free to go about their business without their liberty being subject to infringement through arbitrary police conduct or the abuse or misuse of police power”.
The reason cited by the police in this case for detaining the suspect was “information gathering”. I believe it is reasonable to consider running a speed enforcement trap is a form of information gathering. And until a citizen is made aware, by the police that they are executing a duty, it is not possible for an obstruction to occur. It’s easy to come to the conclusion that officers hiding 1000 feet away, from an oncoming motorist, without their emergency lights on (or in an unmarked car behind a tree), clearly has no intention of letting the motorist know that they are executing a duty. Hiding is a vital part of the “speed trap” concept and as a result it is in most cases impossible for an obstruction charge to occur during the execution of a speed trap.
A case from this year in Alberta resulted in the same determination and the judge in that case clearly articulated the application of an obstruction charge. In that case a citizen pulled over to adjust some items in his truck bed. An officer pulled in behind him to execute a ticket for an equiptment violation. While the officer was in the course of issuing the ticket, the event became a physical confrontation and the citizen was charged with obstruction as a result. However because the officer did not inform the citizen that he was executing a duty (issuing a ticket), the appeal was allowed and the conviction for obstruction was overturned. The transcript of the decision can be read here. Here are the main points of the Alberta decision articulated by the court. “ . . . if the accused lacks the knowledge that the peace officer is engaged in the execution of his duty, an essential component of the mens rea of this particular offence is missing.  It is possible that a person in Mr. Richter’s position might suspect that the police officer had some issue or concern he wanted to speak to him about. Or it is at least equally possible that he might think the police officer had observed him stop and wanted to see if he was in need of assistance, or wanted, with his police vehicle lights, to alert approaching traffic that there was a vehicle stopped at the side of the road.  The evidence establishes only that Mr. Richter did not know what Constable Frenette was up to.
The evidence does not establish that Mr. Richter knew or ought to have known that Constable Frenette was engaged in the execution of his duty.  In these circumstances, though Mr. Richter’s conduct was clearly intentional, it was not criminal.” Being on duty is not the same as executing a duty. And intent is not the same as being willful. Only when knowledge of the execution of a duty combines with a continued intent can an act truly be considered willful and satisfy mens rea. As was mentioned by the judge in the previous case, people must be free to go about their business without their liberty be subject to infringement through arbitrary police conduct or the abuse or misuse of police power. And indeed, the readiness of some officers to escalate what is a traffic violation in most provinces into a scenario of alleged criminal obstruction cannot be justified.
Owning a Laser Jammer is not illegal in BC. Having one installed in your vehicle is not illegal in BC and obstruction for using one is only possible if motorists are clearly made aware of the police executing a speed trap before they enter it. Making their presence known is not part of normal police modus operandis when operating speed “traps” therefore I cannot see how operating a jammer can be considered obstruction.