A legal loophole is leading potentially thousands of Chinese motorists in Richmond to take to the road illegally.
Richmond RCMP has, for several years, been fining drivers $276 and towing their vehicle off the road if caught behind the wheel with a Chinese driver’s licence.
The vast majority of those drivers, though, have been given the go-ahead to drive for a designated length of time by ICBC, which is using the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) to justify its decision.
According to local Mounties, they have no way of verifying if the information on the licence is correct because, unlike agreements with other countries, they’ve no access to Chinese driver licence information.
Richmond RCMP has, therefore, deemed the document invalid — a position that, the RCMP says, has been backed up by the courts after numerous drivers challenged the violation and failed.
A recent escalation in the number of drivers in the city being pulled over and found to be carrying a Chinese licence led to Richmond RCMP appealing to ICBC to work with them to find a solution.
“This has been going on for many years, but it can’t continue,” said Const. Dennis Hwang, of Richmond RCMP’s road safety unit. “It seems to be more prevalent now than it’s ever been. But the drivers are rightly saying to us, ‘How can this be right when ICBC says it’s OK?’”
On any given weekend, said Hwang, “you can be sure that almost everyone we stop in Richmond will be carrying one of these licences.
“It’s not a legal document because it’s not verifiable, there’s no agreement between the two governments to share information.”
ICBC disagrees, saying an official driver’s licence, issued by China, is acceptable in B.C. for any visiting tourist up to six months. If you’ve established residency, your licence is valid for 90 days, ICBC stated.
When asked by the News why ICBC recognizes a Chinese licence as a valid document, but Richmond RCMP does not, the insurance corporation’s senior media relations advisor, Adam Grossman, made specific reference to the MVA, which uses the words “validly issued” in terms of the licence from your country.
It’s those two words that are troubling the RCMP.
“Validly issued? How do they know it’s been validly issued when they have no access to that country’s driving licence records?” added Hwang.
Many foreign tourists driving in B.C. have an international driver’s permit (IDP), which you can only get in your country of origin, and only if that country is part of a core group signed up for the program.
“China is not one of those countries and when we come across Chinese drivers with an IDP, we know that document is fake,” said Hwang.
There could be people from other countries, driving around Richmond and the rest of the province, awaiting a similar fate to the ones with Chinese licences.
The Chinese licence issue only came to light in Richmond because of the high proportion of Chinese drivers on the local roads. According to Hwang, ICBC has attended court cases where the RCMP’s actions have been challenged by the driver, resulting every time in a justice of the peace ruling in the police’s favour.
After ICBC representatives met Tuesday morning with Richmond RCMP to find a solution, Grossman insisted the licence is still valid, but said the corporation has agreed to share its advanced “verification tools” and knowledge with the Mounties in a bid to end the impasse.
Grossman said ICBC has highly-trained and experienced officers, who know what to look for in a Chinese drivers licence to verify its authenticity.
“We simply follow the legislation…we’re aware of the RCMP’s concerns around verification.
“We’re going to see what we can do to assist them.”
Although ICBC claims it has tools to verify authenticity, it’s understood Richmond RCMP still has issues with the document’s validity and will continue to fine and tow drivers with such licences until the courts say otherwise.