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B.C. driver found ‘using’ phone on his leg loses court appeal for distracted driving

Judge said she was ‘not at liberty’ to disregard Court of Appeal decisions
Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. (File photo)

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has dismissed a Surrey motorist’s appeal of a provincial court judge’s decision to convict him of using an electronic device while driving, contrary to the Motor Vehicle Act.

Owais Ahmed Nasir Mirza appealed the conviction, which stemmed from an interaction with a police officer at 64 Avenue and 176 Street on Dec. 15, 2021. The constable, who was doing distracted driving and seatbelt enforcement at the intersection, was walking amongst vehicles stopped at a red light. He told the court he saw a cellphone lying horizontally on Mirza’s right thigh with the screen facing upwards but not lit.

Mirza contested his ticket.

The constable testified that when Mr. Mirza saw him he put the phone on the front passenger seat and then told him to turn into the Chevron gas station nearby and issued the fine.

Mirza testified he usually left his cell phone between the passenger seat and the driver’s seat, he had no intention of using it, that the phone was locked and his hands were on the steering wheel and that the phone was “leaning” against him. The provincial court judge nevertheless found him guilty of holding his cellphone in a position it could be used, declaring that “the short of it is that if it is being held on the lap or on the thigh, it is still holding within the meaning of the statute.”

Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick in Vancouver noted in her reasons for judgment that “the issue at trial—and reiterated on this appeal—is whether Mr. Mirza was ‘using’ his phone, in that he was ‘holding the device in a position in which it may be used.’”

Mirza conceded his phone may have been touching his leg “a bit.”

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“I take this submission to mean that Mr. Mirza confirms that his phone was leaning on his leg, consistent with his evidence at trial that it was ‘leaning on his body,’” Fitzpatrick noted. “Mr. Mirza also again emphasizes that his hands were on the steering wheel, he was not looking at his phone and he was not using any of the functions of the phone, such as sending a text or email, making or received a phone call or employing the GPS. In all of these circumstances, Mr. Mirza asserts that he was not guilty under s. 214.2(1) of the Act.”

But Fitzpatrick said she was bound by case law, as was the provincial court judge, by Court of Appeal decisions which “can dictate only one result here.

“I am not at liberty, as Mr. Mirza had suggested I am, to disregard those decisions,” she said, and “accordingly” she could not conclude there is any basis under the Criminal Code to question the provincial court’s decision “in respect of either his factual findings or his application of the law. Accordingly, Mr. Mirza’s appeal is dismissed.”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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