Defendant found guilty. The Wabalisla Street on the Bella Bella Indian Reserve is a road within the definition of a “highway” as set out in the Motor Vehicle Act.
The defendant was charged with driving while prohibited, contrary to s 95(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act [“MVA”]. The issue was whether the Crown proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Wabalisla Street located on Bella Bella Indian Reserve is a road within the definition of a “highway” as set out in the legislation. The analysis fell into two areas of consideration: 1) was the road designated or intended for or used by the general public for the passage of vehicles, and 2) are Aboriginal persons living on a reserve members of the general public.
The defence argued the reserve is in essence a closed community and any others who might use the street do so only to the extent which is incidental to the ownership of reserve property. Further, as the community is only accessible by water or air, any of the roads are thus precluded from the characteristics of a public highways within the meaning of the MVA. Bella Bella is a final destination, not a point of passage from one destination to another.
Albeit, there was investment in the network of transportation infrastructure that the community has either expressed or implied invitation to the general public to drive on their roads. The pursuit of tourism gave additional weight to this conclusion. There are numerous community-based resources along this roadway. It has traffic signs, is paved and is passable by two conventional cars. All persons are welcome on the reserve without restrictions or regulations. The defence also submitted that as the community had enacted their own by-law for the regulation and use of vehicles on their reserve pursuant to s 81(1)(f) of the Indian Act, this was evidence of their intent not to be subject to the MVA.
The fact that the community has a parallel regulatory by-law is not demonstrative that they have thus occupied the field through their regulations governing driving nor does it establish an intention not to be bound by the MVA. The defence says that a reserve road used by reserve residents is not a public road and is therefore, not a highway under the MVA. The Crown submits that the definition of a “highway” under the MVA, has use by the general public, which includes those Aboriginal members living on a reserve. The legislative purpose of s 95(1) of the MVA is to provide public protection against those prohibited from driving. The 1800 residents of the Bella Bella Reserve is not a trivial number of people. Collectively, they constitute the “general public”. There is nothing in the MVA that excludes individuals living on a reserve to be considered part of the general public. Therefore, the Crown has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Wabalisla Street in Bella Bella is a highway under the MVA.