Auto dealers challenge red-light cameras
Tickets by customers who run Circle Drive light problem for dealerships

Betty Ann Adam
The StarPhoenix

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Some of Saskatoon's biggest auto dealerships are challenging the constitutionality of a Saskatchewan law that makes vehicle owners liable for tickets issued by red-light cameras.

Northtown Motors and Auto Clearing Ltd. don't think they should have to pay for tickets incurred by customers who run the red light at Avenue C and Circle Drive while test driving vehicles.

The two businesses are supported by six other dealerships, which are pitching in to help pay for the cost of the legal challenge, said Northtown owner Laurie Bradley.

"I don't argue with the cameras because they solved a problem, but there are some serious loose ends," he said.

"We're eating the cost because we can't hire a lawyer and sue a customer for $220 bucks." If police catch a driver running any other red light, the driver gets the ticket, regardless of who owns the vehicle, Bradley noted. If the driver doesn't pay the ticket or skips court, he or she is liable.

"But because you went through that intersection (with a red-light camera), they've passed the whole legal process over to us. We view ourselves as innocent bystanders," he said.

The dealerships have hired lawyer Grant Scharfstein to challenge Section 93 of the Saskatchewan Highway Traffi c Act, which automatically makes the owner of a vehicle liable even if someone else drives it through a red light at the specially equipped intersection.

That section of the act is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says one must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, Scharfstein said.

"You have a right to be (presumed) innocent. What is it (the dealership owner has) done wrong? Why should somebody be subject to this fi ne when they've done nothing wrong? Let the guy who ran the red light be the one who pays the ticket," Scharfstein said.

Saskatchewan should amend its legislation to include a "due diligence" defence, similar to one included in British Columbia's legislation, Scharfstein said.

"They should be able to establish they exercised proper care in entrusting that vehicle to that driver.

For example, they take your name, address and phone number." Scharfstein said he would like to see the Crown withdraw a red-light charge from the dealership owner and reissue it to the established driver.

If the court agrees with the argument, the province will have to amend the legislation to include a due diligence defence or withdraw the section and remove red-light cameras, Scharfstein said.

At present, the only way an owner can avoid liability is by proving in court that the vehicle was driven by an unauthorized driver or was stolen.

Thousands of dismayed vehicle owners have shelled out $220 for tickets issued by the controversial redlight camera, said traffi c court prosecutor Larry Danylyshyn.

A 10-second video recording is made whenever sensor is triggered by a vehicle not slowing for the red light.

Some people arrive at court planning to fi ght the fi nes but change their minds after viewing the video in court, Danylyshyn said.

"Once the people see the video they realize, 'It probably was redder than I thought,' " Danylyshyn said.

This is the fi rst such challenge to the constitutionality of the law, said Crown prosecutor James Fyfe, of the constitutional law branch.

The matter will be heard in Saskatoon provincial court on Jan. 24.

Meidl Honda, Saskatoon Motor Products, Wheaton Pontiac Buick, Jubilee Ford, Sherwood Chev and Merlin Canada West Truck Centre are helping to pay for the challenge, Bradley said.
The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006