The ultimate fate of the city's photo-enforcement program will be decided by politicians, but it's ordinary Winnipeggers who are doing their best to hammer the nails in its coffin.
Without lawyers and armed with a little know-how, some common sense, and one even with satellite imagery, drivers caught speeding by a controversial police photo-radar unit set up on Grant Avenue near Nathaniel Street are fighting their tickets by challenging everything from the radar's accuracy to the clarity of the camera's photo. A few are even winning.
"It's the principle of transparency," ticket-fighter Michael Ruiz said recently. "They say it's accurate, but how accurate is it? There's a human factor in the equation that I question."
Ruiz, a 39-year-old certified engineering technologist with a major construction firm, was snapped Oct. 12 last year going 67 km/h in the 50 km/h zone, a speed he says he couldn't have been doing as it was raining and too fast for the conditions. Plus, it was completely out of character for him and his clean 21-year driving record.
"As a regular person, I've done my due diligence," he said. "An ordinary joe would say, 'Forget it,' but my goal is I want to understand the process.
"I know I wasn't speeding. I can prove I wasn't speeding."
Ruiz's trial started this week, but was adjourned to March 13 to allow him time to submit his material to the Crown.
His defence is that the angle of the photo-radar unit, as it's parked next to the curb on an access road parallel to Grant, can make the angle of the radar beam greater than the allowable 20 degrees, putting it out of whack. He's returned to the site to survey it to get precise measurements of where the unit was parked to back up his case.
"Precision is an issue to me," Ruiz said. "I work Monday to Friday almost 12 hours a day and it's really hard to find the time to fight one of these tickets, but I found the time. My conviction right now is to get my day in court."
Ruiz is far from the only one who's hit the books, and the Internet, to bolster his case.
Two weeks ago, structural engineer Glenn Penner argued unsuccessfully that according to city records and the Highway Traffic Act's definition, that stretch of Grant is not an official school zone, in that Grant Park High School is adjacent to a vacant park, not Grant.
This past week, two people got their tickets dropped for simpler reasons.
In one case a woman got her ticket chucked before court because neither the Crown nor a photo-radar operator could make out her vehicle plate number on the ticket, despite both using a magnifying glass to confirm it.
Salesperson Marie Hucal won because she was able to convince a magistrate that the camera's operator, whose unit caught her speeding, could not have actually seen her speeding before the camera snapped its picture.
By law, a camera operator has to see a vehicle speeding as it approaches the photo-enforcement unit.
Hucal argued she could not have been speeding where the camera operator said she was because she had just turned right onto Grant, and driving a six-speed manual transmission, could not have gone above the speed limit in just 60 feet.
Many of those fighting tickets have got advice from WiseUp Winnipeg, an advocacy group pushing for the cameras to be yanked and for longer amber light times.
The future of the city's decade-old photo-enforcement program is to be decided within the next few months, as the contract the city has with Affiliated Computer Services Inc. expires at the end of the year. ACS operates the program with fine revenue paying for the program. Additional revenue above the program's cost goes to the province and into the city's police budget.
Colin Craig, spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the cameras should be unplugged and replaced by police officers doing enforcement.
Craig said officers, as opposed to cameras, stop offending drivers to see if they're impaired or wanted on an arrest warrant.
"They stop that dangerous activity right in its tracks," he said.
need to ask
IF you do go to trial before a coming test case proceeds, then you might consider asking the following questions in court:
1) What did you do to set up the equipment prior to issuing tickets on the day of the ticket issued to me? (He/she should indicate that they walked around the vehicle to make sure it was parallel to the curb -- if they don't say that, ask if they did. They will tell you the vehicle has to be parallel with the road because of the angle of the beam.)
2) Why it is important for the vehicle to be parallel with the road? (They will indicate that the angles need to be accurate in order to record accurate readings.)
3) You stated your vehicle was parallel with the service road, but how do you know the service road is parallel with the road on which I was travelling? (If they can't answer and explain how they know the two roads are parallel, you should have them. Remember, this ticket location is a new type in Winnipeg: Usually, photo radar operates on the same road the vehicle is on, not on a side road. If they can't prove the roads are parallel, then they can't prove their reading was accurate.)
3) Are you an expert in Doppler radar? How many hours of training did you receive? (They will say 36 hours of training and the Crown will claim they are experts.)
4) What is the angle of the radar beam across Grant? (They will have just testified that it's fixed at 20 degrees -- but it appears to be more than that -- look at your photos. Know that the picture is taken 0.73 seconds after the vehicle left the radar beam, or 42 feet at 64 km/h.)