Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Photo-radar challenge hits roadblock

Court disallows expert witness

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What was supposed to be a legal challenge to the accuracy of photo radar instead skidded to a stop Friday when WiseUp Winnipeg was told its expert witness did not qualify.

The decision by Magistrate Lori Nelson sent the traffic advocacy group packing and possibly shut the courthouse door on the group ever mounting a similar challenge.

It's the third high-profile case WiseUp has lost in its fight against the use of police photo radar at Grant Avenue and Nathaniel Street. The controversy over the radar unit erupted more than a year ago when dozens of people claimed the camera, which is stationed at a service road, wrongly tagged them for speeding.

The group's leader, Todd Dube, was in no mood to talk Friday and was heard uttering obscenities as the courtroom at 373 Broadway cleared.

The day started when WiseUp's lawyer, Kerry Unruh, withdrew as counsel and WiseUp's technical affairs director, Chris Sweryda, stepped up to the defence table in his place.

Sweryda was representing driver Brian Hearnden, who was snapped by the photo radar unit going 63 km/h in the 50 km/h zone last July 12.

WiseUp's plan was to have city businessman Ken Sontag recognized as an expert witness, as he had been last year in another court case.

Sontag told court at an earlier hearing that the radar's beam and its accuracy to measure the speed of passing vehicles are skewed because of electromagnetic interference caused by metal signposts and light poles on Grant Avenue.

However, Sontag did not get a chance to testify Friday. Instead, the magistrate said he did not meet the legal criteria because his knowledge of police radar is negligible; nor was he properly presented as an expert witness by Sweryda.

The abrupt end meant the Crown's expert witness, University of Manitoba Prof. Lotfollah Shafai, did not have to testify or defend how police deploy photo radar on Grant Avenue.

With Sontag not being allowed to testify, Hearnden quickly changed his plea to guilty and was fined $216.

WiseUp lost a similar case last September after Nelson ruled it was neither the court's nor the Crown's job to help prepare Sontag to testify as an expert witness by giving him the manual police use in setting up and deploying photo radar.

In a case last May, the Crown stayed a speeding ticket after Sontag was allowed to be an expert witness by Magistrate Guilaume Dragon, despite Sontag's admission he only started refreshing himself on radar after his wife, Valerie, got a ticket at Grant and Nathaniel. The staying of the ticket meant WiseUp never got a chance to argue its case about the radar's accuracy.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 A8

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