This article was in the Toronto Star. There's a couple of interesting pointers for fighting tickets in court.
The Star's ongoing series about drivers in traffic court reminds me of my time in Ontario court this summer.
The charge just didn't seem fair: Failure to yield to oncoming traffic.
I'd been caught unexpectedly in the middle of an intersection, trying to turn left after the advanced green traffic light ended while obscured by a transport truck in front of me.
The cop roared up behind, lights blazing, and was unsympathetic to my explanation. "Tell it to the judge," he said, writing the $110 ticket and assigning the three demerit points.
So I thought I'd do just that.
I went back and took photos of the scene in Pickering, turning east onto Bayly St. from Brock Rd., just south of Hwy. 401. I even shot a movie that showed a large truck obscuring the light throughout the sequence of events.
My day in court was set for seven months after the incident and I was quite looking forward to it, but as time closed in, I grew less confident. These were points deductible from my licence, after all, and a possible hefty increase in insurance after two tickets given two years previously.
A visit to a paralegal cost nothing, so I knocked on the door of Ontario Traffic Tickets in Ajax — I happened to be driving by and saw the office — and spoke with Len Smart, co-owner of the Durham region office. I explained the situation and he furrowed his brow.
"I don't think the officer laid the right charge," he said. "I think he laid a charge that's supposed to cover an offence on a highway, but not at an intersection. I don't think this charge will stand."
I tried to tell Smart that the charge just wasn't fair in the first place and explained how I would tell the judge the circumstances and he would look upon me and dismiss the charge.
"The judge doesn't care to hear a story," said Smart. "He hears stories all day long. He wants legal argument that proves your case."
This was enough to make me doubt my courtroom savvy. This, and the guarantee that if Ontario Traffic Tickets did not get the charge thrown out, it would pay whatever fine was still due from its $250 fee.
Sounded reasonable to me. I signed the contract.
On the day, having taken a morning off work, I dressed respectably and arrived at the Whitby courtroom in plenty of time to meet Smart in the corridor.
He introduced me to one of his "court agents," Brian Jones, who had just had a speeding charge dismissed against another driver. In that case, the officer had lost sight of the car for a brief time and couldn't swear that he'd pulled over the same car and driver that he'd clocked at 110 km/h in an 80 zone.
Smart had already tried to negotiate a reduction to my charge but the prosecutor wasn't going for it.
The prosecution and the justice of the peace were both in an "objective" mood: the guy just before me had a bumbling paralegal and was convicted of speeding at the full 115 km/h that he'd been clocked at, despite the cop's reduction on the ticket to 95 in an 80.
Then it was my turn. I was so relieved to have somebody represent me and to not be on my own.
The officer gave evidence from his notebook and it sounded accurate to me. After he'd finished recounting the facts, that's when I would have stood and plead my case, appealing to the intelligence of the court. Instead, Jones stood and asked for the case to be dismissed. The prosecution shrugged, the judge agreed and that was that.
What happened in there?
"He got the evidence wrong," said Jones. "He didn't state your name in his notes, he didn't state if the traffic lights were working, he didn't say what the traffic was like.
"He got to bring in a smidgen of doubt, and that's all it needs. The prosecution wouldn't have given it up if you'd been representing yourself because she'd have assumed you wouldn't catch it, but she knew I knew. End of story."
And so the case was dropped, I paid $250 and we all moved on. And the judge never did get to see my photos or hear my story. Probably just as well.
The situation is much different in Quebec. In January 2004, I was given a speeding ticket on a deserted road somewhere south of Val-d'Or, accused of driving Wheels' Prius hybrid tester at 120 km/h in a 90 km/h zone.
I lost the ticket that the officer gave me; it was cleaned out of the car with all the other detritus accumulated on the drive up to James Bay and back.
Not to worry — I'd deal with it when I received a reminder. Except I never received a reminder, and over time assumed the charge had been dropped. Until three months ago.
That's when I received a notice that I'd been convicted of speeding, fined $110 and given an additional penalty of $96 for not paying up promptly.
Calls to Quebec fell on stony, non-bilingual ears. Paralegals are illegal there, and a lawyer costs at least $400. There's no Askov decision, which limits the time a charge can apply before trial.
An application to throw out the conviction and rehear the case fell through the same crack as my original reminder. The judge had expected me to be there, 500 km north of Toronto, but I'd been told that wasn't necessary so stayed home, and my conviction stood. No notice was sent afterwards and, after some time on the phone this week and threats of suspending my licence, I finally gave in and paid the bill.
The lesson from all this? Don't fall foul of Quebec's traffic enforcement system