Canadian police have agreed to let Chinese drivers temporarily use their mainland licences in British Columbia without being fined, ending a row with the province's car insurance authority.
This week's deal between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) was struck after it emerged that the police considered thousands of Chinese were driving illegally in the city of Richmond. The Vancouver satellite is the most Chinese city outside Asia, with almost 50 per cent of the 190,000 population ethnic Chinese.
The RCMP has long fined drivers caught using a Chinese licence, and towed their vehicles. Yet the ICBC - which is in charge of vehicle registration, licences and insurance - had been allowing Chinese visitors and new immigrants onto the roads, telling them their mainland licences were valid in BC for up to six months and 90 days respectively.
Police had said they could not trust the veracity of mainland documents because there was no licence data-sharing agreement.
Despite numerous challenges to the RCMP's policy by aggrieved drivers, BC's courts had always sided with the police.
Now, the issue had been resolved in the ICBC's favour, the insurer said.
It said the RCMP had agreed to no longer fine drivers using mainland licences but they would have to get a valid BC licence within 90 days of becoming a BC resident. Visitors would be allowed to drive on their Chinese licences for six months.
If a driver with a Chinese licence was pulled over, the ICBC said it would work to help confirm the authenticity of the document and the driver's details.
"The RCMP has advised that they will not ticket drivers who have a validly issued driver's licence from a jurisdiction outside of BC as long as the driver meets the requirements of the Motor Vehicle Act," ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman said on Thursday.
Chinese students would be allowed to used their mainland licences as long as they were enrolled in full-time education.
Many other foreign drivers in BC are allowed on the roads using an international drivers' permit, obtained in their home country, but China does not participate in the programme.
Constable Dennis Hwang, of Richmond's road safety unit, has suggested that some Chinese drivers had been caught using fake international permits.
"China is not one of those countries [that issue international permits] and when we come across Chinese drivers with one, we know that the document is fake," he told The Province newspaper a fortnight ago.
Chinese drivers in Richmond have previously been implicated in a number of scams designed to circumvent licensing rules.
In the most prominent case, an ICBC driving examiner and the operator of a Richmond driving school were convicted in 2008 of running a bribery scheme in which dozens of Chinese drivers paid up to C$8,000 (HK$56,200) for a licence, sometimes without even turning up for a test.
Driving instructor David Foon-wai Chiu, who made up to C$150,000 from the scam, was jailed for 21/2 years. ICBC examiner Crispina Diaz received a conditional sentence.