Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Photo radar claim may not get settled

Crown likely to avoid accuracy issue: critic

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A legal showdown involving the accuracy of the city's photo radar is back in court today, but don't expect a decision soon -- if ever.

That's because the hearing in traffic court will likely focus more on legal procedure than whether a mobile unit at Grant Avenue and Nathaniel Street inaccurately records speeds due to interference from metal sign poles.

Controversy over the camera was raised a year ago, just after police placed the camera near the River Heights intersection. Dozens of drivers complained the tickets they received were incorrect because the distance from the intersection to the camera unit was too short for them to reach such speeds.

Manitoba's Justice Department has recruited Dutch scientist Ted Janssen, a senior adviser at Gatsometer BV (the company that manufactures the photo-radar equipment used by city police), and University of Manitoba Prof. Lotfollah Shafai, an expert in electromagnetic modelling, to give evidence the Grant and Nathaniel camera setup produces accurate speed readings.

On the other side, anti-camera advocacy group WiseUp Winnipeg has its own expert, Ken Sontag, who testified in another case the metal sign poles near where the camera unit is parked interfere with the radar beam and cause inaccurate speed readings.

But WiseUp's Todd Dube said he doesn't think the court will hear any evidence about the accuracy of photo radar, and WiseUp's challenge could be defeated on a technicality.

"It appears the Crown is under some strong marching orders to compel his case forward and win it at any cost," Dube said, adding he expects Crown attorney John Barr to attack Sontag's credibility as an expert witness.

"To me, there is one side that is seeking to decide this issue once and for all, and that side isn't them. If they discredit Ken they know they pretty much blow us out of the water."

He also said WiseUp only got a report from Shafai on what he found on the police setup at Grant and Nathaniel nine days ago, not the requisite 30 days.

Barr declined to comment.

The ticket at the centre of the case was issued to Michael Ruiz, who was snapped by the camera at Grant and Nathaniel on Oct. 12, 2011, going 67 kilometres per hour in the 50 km/h zone.

Ruiz, a certified engineering technologist, has said he couldn't have been going that fast because it was raining.

Last June, police demonstrated the accuracy of the photo radar at the location in a series of tests, with the Free Press present. The tests showed the photo radar unit was just as accurate at recording speeds as a hand-held laser speed gun, the standard equipment used by police throughout the city during regular traffic enforcement, despite the presence of metal sign poles, a light standard and a fire hydrant.

Dube said he believes Barr will argue Sontag is biased because he has received two speeding tickets, and therefore can't be an expert witness.

About 1.175 million photo-radar tickets taken by cameras have been issued since the program started almost a decade ago (excluding 2012), Dube said.

"To take the position that people who've received a ticket should be precluded from opposing, or taking a position, or testifying to photo radar in any way is just completely and wholly unreasonable," Dube said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2012 A4

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