Formal training not required in Alberta

Albertans looking to challenge driving offences should be careful about who they hire to help them. Some people may turn to a traffic agent, a person who can — for a fee — represent you in traffic court.

The problem is that such agents don’t need to be certified or experienced.

Some established agents, like Charlie Pester, are fed up with the situation.

“As far as I’m concerned these inexperienced agents have no pride in what they do, they are just looking for a quick buck,” says Pester, who is an ex-police officer and the owner of the traffic ticket agency, Pointts.

Unlike in Ontario, Alberta does not require formal training for traffic agents.

Photo illustration by Garrett HarveyPester believes inexperienced agents only find clients because they offer a slightly cheaper price for representation.

Pester also says every operating agent should be covered by errors and omissions insurance – just like private practice lawyers in Alberta.

That insurance would mean traffic agent clients could have their court costs covered if the negligence of an agent causes a lawsuit.

But since that insurance isn’t required, Pester claims many of the inexperienced agents don’t even bother with the expense — which can climb up to around $2,000 a year.

ANYONE CAN BE AN AGENT

Deborah Prowse, a former Justice of the Peace and current owner of the traffic ticket agency Demerits, also thinks members of her industry should have a code of conduct or be regulated by the government.

Such regulations don’t exist in Alberta, Prowse says.

“Whether or not you understand the justice system, the elements of an offence or the procedures of a court room, you can call yourself a traffic agent.”

ONTARIO HAS IT UNDER CONTROL

That’s not the case in Ontario, where traffic court agents – along with other paralegals –have been regulated since 2007.

Pester says that “when Ontario set their regulations, they brought in the people that had been active agents for at least three years.”

At that point, those agents were required to pass a licensing exam, as well as be of good character.

New agents have to take an approved college course.

On top of that, paid agents in Ontario are required to be covered by professional liability insurance.

Pester says Alberta may not have adopted these regulations because, in comparison to Ontario, the number of agents here is very small.

WHEN THINGS GO WRONG

Pester says the case of Dennis Young is a prime example of the need to regulate traffic court agents.

Back in 2011, CTV News reported that Young’s traffic ticket company “made off with their money before fighting tickets in court.”

Different firms, including Pointts, picked up some of the cases that Young left behind.

Prowse says that people who find themselves unexpectedly unrepresented by their agent “may even find out that there is a warrant out for their arrest because no one represented them in court. There is nothing that would oversee an agency being shut down like that.”

The Calgary Journal was unable to obtain contact information for Young, whose phone number has changed.

WHAT CAN ALBERTA DO?

As a result of such controversies, Prowse says, “there is a need to take steps in some fashion to protect the public.”

Pester agrees something needs to be done, as well.

“At the very least, every agent needs to be covered by errors and omissions insurance.”

The Albertan Government did not respond request for comment on whether it would look at regulating traffic court agents.

gharvey@cjournal.ca