Quebec Superior court has approved a class action lawsuit against the province's automobile insurance board, the SAAQ, alleging a questionnaire used to evaluate the risk to re-offend of convicted impaired drivers is discriminatory.
Lawyer Stéphane Michaud said if successful, the lawsuit could see the SAAQ forced to compensate tens of thousands of drivers.
"We're talking a total of hundreds of millions of dollars. It's big," Michaud said.
Questionnaire deemed 'unfair'
Michaud launched the suit on behalf of Daniel Lepage, a 50-year-old man from Rimouski who pleaded guilty to driving with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood in 2012.
Lepage's licence was suspended for a year. When he tried to get it back, the SAAQ refused to give it to him because he failed to pass a questionnaire designed to assess his risk of re-offending.
Michaud said Lepage felt the questionnaire was unfair.
"There are questions that aren't pertinent to the SAAQ's objective, namely to predict the risk of someone re-offending as an impaired driver," Michaud said.
Michaud said the questionnaire included questions about marital status and level of education, which have no bearing on whether someone is likely to re-offend.
He alleged the SAAQ simply compares the answers of respondents to a bank of statistical data which identifies people in demographic categories most likely to re-offend.
"When you evaluate someone, you should evaluate them based on facts. You can't presume the person is part of the statistics," Michaud said.
Designed to improve safety, SAAQ says
A spokesperson for the SAAQ refused to do an interview because the matter is before the courts, other than to say the questionnaire is designed by experts and its goal is to improve safety on Quebec's roads.
Michaud challenged the SAAQ's decision to hold onto his licence in an administrative tribunal and won.
The SAAQ was forced to restore his licence. Michaud decided to take it a step further and launch a class action.
"He wanted to make sure other people don't go through what he did," Michaud said.
Michaud said the case will likely take years to work its way through the courts. He said potential plaintiffs do not have to sign up to join the lawsuit, they are automatically considered part of the class.
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