Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ticket fight falls flat

Photo-radar case ends after Crown stays charge

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It was a hollow victory for a Winnipeg driver fighting a $200 speeding ticket.

"I'm disappointed that I got out of a traffic ticket," Philip Johst said after the Crown prosecutor dropped his case Friday after two days of testimony.

Disappointed because Johst had set his sights on a much bigger battle. Along with WiseUp Winnipeg, an anti-camera advocacy group, Johst had challenged the accuracy of the mobile photo-radar unit at Grant Avenue and Nathaniel Street, a thorn in the side of many drivers.

"Really, in the end now, this isn't a precedent-setting case and that's too bad for Winnipeg. Think of all those tickets that maybe could have been reviewed and whether people should have not been getting those tickets," Johst said.

"These two days in court have been wasted," he added.

Johst's argument was that metal sign posts on Grant Avenue interfered with the camera's radar beam and resulted in inaccurate speed readings.

The end of the case leaves no answer to rampant speculation the camera results in bogus speeding tickets.

Winnipeg police have long maintained they're not in the business of issuing illegal tickets, and radar unit gives accurate readings. They insist the problem is speeding.

However, police never got a chance to say that at Johst's trial because Crown attorney John Barr pulled the pin.

The only testimony came from Ken Sontag, who worked with radar during his prior career at Transport Canada. Sontag and his company, Norscan Instruments, make monitoring devices for companies that install fibre-optic cable.

Sontag, an electrical engineer, was given standing as 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 the Grant and Nathaniel location.

Sontag told court at an earlier hearing 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.

The controversy over the photo-radar unit across from Grant Park High School erupted last fall when dozens of people claimed the camera, which is stationed at a service road, wrongly tagged them for speeding.

Barr argued Sontag's evidence should be given no weight because he's unfamiliar with how modern photo radar works to measure speed.

Barr also said Sontag was biased because the outcome of Johst's case could influence his wife's.

"So you don't know anything about this stuff, do you?" Barr asked Sontag at one point in their exchange.

"I don't retain everything in my mind," Sontag replied.

Outside court, Sontag also said he was disappointed by the outcome of the case because the issue of the accuracy of the mobile unit remains unresolved.

"It's legal wrangling," he said. "They're not about finding the answer. They're not about finding the truth. They're all about legal wrangling and protecting their cash cow."

Following the court case, police said because of Barr's argument that Sontag was biased, they could not be called to testify because of a perception of bias, and Barr didn't want to go down that road.

Todd Dube of WiseUp Winnipeg said the stay of proceedings means a golden opportunity to prove the camera at Grant and Nathaniel is inaccurate has been lost.

Dube said he spent $10,000 of his own money to mount the case, just to see it evaporate without any conclusion.

"The only mileage we have is the headline 'WiseUp Winnipeg wins yet loses.' That's what the headline should read," Dube said outside traffic court. "There's no justice in there. The whole thing stinks of desperation."

Dube said he hoped the magistrate had upheld the speeding ticket so WiseUp could appeal the case to a higher court.

Now, there is no chance for an appeal.

"As soon as it became obvious that they weren't going to win, they walked away from it," Dube said.

The 2011 annual report on photo radar police released Thursday, shows ticket violations and revenue are down for another year.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2012 B1

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