There is no reference to “suspended” driving licences in the Criminal Code of Canada, but that does not mean you can’t go to jail for it.

The Criminal Code does include the related offences of driving while “prohibited” or “disqualified”. There are certain similarities between these terms and “driving while suspended” and none should be taken lightly, but they should not be used interchangeably without understanding the differences.

The Highway Traffic Act of Ontario is the key to understanding whether it is a criminal offence to driving while your licence is suspended in Ottawa. It is the main driving legislation relevant to Ottawa and includes several references to driving while your licence is “suspended”.

With several different types of suspension, it is not as straightforward as it first seems, and you need to be sure why you are suspended and what the implications are. If you are charged with driving while suspended, it is important to defend the charge to avoid potentially serious implications.

What are the penalties for driving on a suspended licence in Ottawa?

According to Section 53 of the Highway Traffic Act, the penalties for driving on a suspended licence (first time) are as follows:

  • Up to six months in jail
  • Minimum fine of $1,000 (up to $5,000 for cases involving alcohol suspensions)
  • Six-month licence suspension for a first offence

As a longer-term consequence of driving on a suspended licence, you will also face significant increases in insurance rates.

These penalties are severe, but if your licence has already been suspended, it means that you were guilty of previous infractions and are violating an order not to drive. Therefore, it is little surprise that leniency is in short supply from the authorities in these cases.

Note that if you are caught and convicted of driving on a suspended licence a second or subsequent time, you can expect harsher penalties than those detailed above.

What types of driver’s licence suspensions are there in Ottawa?

To complicate matters, there are five main types of driver’s licence suspension under the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario:

Suspension due to unpaid fines

The most common reason for a licence suspension is failing to pay outstanding fines – for whatever reason.

Sometimes, this is unintentional and, at other times, drivers deliberately ignore the fine. If the time limit to pay expires, a suspension may be automatically activated and you will be informed in writing – but what if you moved house or it got “lost” in the mail?

Driving under suspension

Your licence may be automatically suspended by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) if you are found guilty of a certain type of offence, regardless of any court-imposed restrictions.

For instance, if you are found to be “driving under suspension” (a first time), you will automatically receive a further six months licence suspension on top of the existing suspension.

Discretionary suspension

Suspensions for some offences are mandatory. However, a traffic court or “Provincial Offences Court” in Ottawa may also suspend a licence as a discretionary measure for committing certain kinds of offences.

Suspension due to impaired driving

A common reason in Ottawa for an administrative suspension of a driver’s licence is impaired driving charges.

Even if you have not been found guilty but simply accused of being over the legal limit for driving (or if you refuse a screening device sample), your licence will be taken by law enforcement and the MTO will suspend it for 90 days.

Suspension from failure to meet requirements

If you are found guilty of another offence and part of your penalty includes meeting certain requirements (such as attending counselling or an alcohol and drugs education program) you can have your licence suspended if you fail to meet these requirements.

Also, if you fail to meet certain vision or medical requirements, you can be suspended under a doctor’s advice.

What should you do if you are charged with driving on a suspended licence?

If you are charged with driving on a suspended licence, stop driving immediately.

You will not improve your situation by continuing to drive, no matter how unfair you believe the charge to be. In fact, you will make it much worse.

If you have made an honest mistake or were not aware of the suspension, it is possible to plead mitigation and the court may be sympathetic to your situation. If you continue to drive, there will be no sympathy.

Although it is unlikely you will see any jail time for a first driving while suspended incident, subsequent convictions greatly increase the likelihood of spending time in jail. It is advisable to seek representation from qualified lawyers who are experienced in defending driving while suspended charges.

Regardless of the outcome of your case, you cannot drive legally until your licence has been reinstated. That does not happen automatically. You must prove that you have served your suspension and pay the associated fees.

Procedure for challenging a driving on a suspended licence charge in Ottawa

If you are accused of driving while suspended in Ottawa, there will be a “first appearance” date on your ticket. Make sure you get to court early on that day.

Obtain a copy of your disclosure (evidence) so that you can understand the charge against you. This will influence what you do next.

At the first hearing, you will need to decide if you are going to plead guilty or not guilty. The judge may agree to adjourn the date if you want to review your options or set a trial date.

If you adjourn your date, it’s important to review your legal options and review your disclosure so that you can make the best possible decision. Talk this through with an experienced lawyer who can advise you of the recommended course of action.

On the adjournment date, you will appear in court again and the matter may be settled or go to trial.

Affordable defence for driving while on a suspended licence charge in Ottawa

We can help protect your rights and avoid the most serious consequences of a driving while suspended charge if you act quickly.

The lawyers at Affordable Defence in Ottawa are skilled at defending such charges and can represent you in traffic court to fight your ticket.  You may not even have to appear in court.

Contact us for a free case evaluation so that you can first understand your legal options.