A Warning for British Columbia Tourists

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This post is being simultaneously published on my political blog, The Jolly Libertarian, as Highway Robbery.

Here is a cautionary tale for residents and tourists to British Columbia.

Recently our daughter got married. The wedding was held in Maple Ridge and we had guests from as far away as Australia, Britain and California. My sister-in-law drove out for the wedding from Alberta. The wedding was a great success. Unfortunately, the return home for my sister-in-law was not. She was accosted and robbed by armed thugs on the Coquihalla Highway between Hope and the Great Bear Snowshed.

These were not your ordinary everyday robbers. They hid behind a badge and pretended their actions were moral and just. They most certainly were not.

My sister-in-law fell victim to two laws that jointly were used to extort money from her and provide revenue for a couple of businesses in Hope. Both laws on the surface seem reasonable. But the way they were applied is nothing short of criminal.

One is the law on construction speed zones. If signs are posted noting construction ahead with recommended speeds, you are supposed to slow down for the safety of the workers doing roadwork. Can’t fault the logic on that. Worker safety is an important issue.

The second law is that if you drive 41 kilometres an hour above the speed limit, your car is automatically impounded for a week. Most policemen tolerate excessive speed to some extent. You can usually drive 120 km/hr in a 100 km/hr zone on the highway without being stopped. You are more likely to be stopped for going too slowly on the highway. There’s a law against impeding traffic flow.

In any event, after the wedding, my sister-in-law headed home to Alberta. She reached a construction zone on the Coquihalla and slowed down. The zone was a very. long one going on for many kilometres. The speed signs got progressively slower – ending with a limit of 50 kilometres an hour.

Here’s the rub. There was no construction going on. Not a single worker anywhere along this lengthy stretch of construction zone. While she initially slowed down, after a few kilometres with no workers in sight, she sped up again to normal highway speed. She told me that, among other things, she was concerned that she might be rear-ended by going too slow as others, including big semis, were not slowing down.

And then, like spiders eying their web, the RCMP swooped in and pulled her over. Not only was she speeding in a construction zone, she was going over 41 km/hr over the posted speed limit and they were impounding her car.

Now my sister-in-law is very aware of road safety and is sympathetic to the police in general. I had a disagreement just a few days before when we were driving somewhere together about abuse of police power.

I told her how my daughter had been coming home to Abbotsford from downtown Vancouver and had used the exit bypass at 264th Street to circumvent a traffic snarl on the highway. The road exits to 264th Street, but the road also continues and reconnects with the highway in case you made a mistake and got off at the wrong exit. She naturally took the less congested route, which, incidentally is a recommended practice.

An over-zealous motorcycle cop decided this was, somehow, “not fair” to the other drivers and pulled her over. He told her that what she did was strictly speaking not illegal. But he thought it was “cheating” and he held her by the side of the road for a while before letting her continue on her way. No ticket. No violation of the law. Just an uppity prick with an agenda.

I told my sister-in-law about this and blasted the cop. She sort of shrugged it off. She does not like criticizing the police, though she acknowledged that some (usually the younger inexperienced ones she suggested) are often driven by power-lust and want to flex their legal muscle.

Now she found herself at the other end of police overkill.

The cop called a tow truck and she rode along in the cab with the truck operator as he towed her car to an impound lot in Hope. She was advised where she could rent a car nearby. She went there, a local car dealership, and got the last rental car available.

Following on her tail were a couple of Chinese tourists. They had had their rental car impounded and could not continue on their way to Banff. My sister-in-law offered to drive them as far as Jasper where they could find a car rental and continue on their way.

This Chinese couple were most grateful and paid for the gas fill-ups along the way. They complained bitterly about their shabby treatment in Canada and said my sister-in-law was the first person to have treated them kindly.

China is a burgeoning economy with a growing middle class. While still nominally a communist country, it is no longer the insular country it once was. Not only has China opened up to tourism, its citizens can now travel freely around the world. When my wife and I took a Southeast Asia cruise last year, 500 of the 3000 passengers were Chinese. Chinese tourists are an increasing source of revenue for Canada’s tourism business.

Now my sister-in-law ended up with a couple of thousand dollars of expense. The fine was over $350. She had to pay the towing charge, the impound fee, the week car rental, and the return trip costs. This Chinese couple probably had even more expenses not to mention a bitter experience they would undoubtedly tell their friends and relatives about when they returned home.

When cops sit in wait at a construction zone with very slow speed limits while no construction is going on, they are nothing short of legalized thugs, highway robbers by a different name.

Whether they got kick-backs from the businesses who benefited from their actions is another question. Whether their actions were ordered and sanctioned by the town of Hope is another question. Both questions deserve further investigation.

All parties to this criminal enterprise ought to be ashamed of themselves. These zealous cops have probably cost British Columbia thousands of dollars in lost future tourist revenue and given the province a black eye in the world.

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