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Guilty with an explanation

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Sometime before I had children, I was returning from a jaunt in the Assiniboine Forest with my dogs when I decided to stop at Grant Park Mall to pick up something from Safeway. After my purchase, I tried to exit the mall parking lot on the east side, and proceeded to make a right-hand turn on Wilton Street to make my way to Taylor Avenue.

However, as soon as I made the turn, a police officer walked out of a lane across from the mall and waved me down. He informed me that there was a prohibition on right-hand turns and that he was going to give me a ticket. I was furious.

Now, I wasn't furious because I didn't see the 'no-right-hand-turn' sign. But because I thought the law was dumb. I did understand that the prohibition was an attempt to control mall traffic on Wilton but of all the exits from the mall, this was the only with a turning restriction. I wondered aloud (but not loud enough for the officer to hear me) which city councillor's grandmother lived on Wilton. It made no sense to me, but the cop had me dead to rights.

For the first time in my life, I fought the ticket. I went down to see a magistrate on Broadway and made my argument. In essence, I argued that although the sign is in plain view, the law was not intuitive. It didn't make sense, and as a result it was easy to forget that this arbitrary rule. Remarkably, the magistrate agreed.

I've often wondered how I convinced the magistrate to let me off the hook. I can't say for sure, of course, but I've always theorized that I was being rewarded for trying to suggest that I didn't actually do anything wrong. I admitted that I made the turn, and that I was more-or-less aware of the restriction. I argued that the law was dumb. Perhaps the magistrate found a more-or-less intelligent argument refreshing. Given the performance that preceded me, it's a good bet.

A 30-something soccer mom was arguing vociferously that tickets she received for speeding and not wearing her seatbelt were unjust. She was distracted by her children, who were misbehaving in the back seat, and thus wasn't paying attention to the speed limit. Similarly, with her attention on settling her unruly kids, she didn't remember to put her seatbelt on. Over and over again, she complained that she didn't mean to do anything illegal, and that it was totally unfair that the police officer didn't take these mitigating circumstances into account when he pulled her over. After a routine like that, a "guilty with an explanation" approach must have been quite a treat.

Which brings me to photo radar. In the dead-tree version of the FP, I have a column that analyzes the mistakes made by both the province and city that created a legal and administrative debacle that may require tens of thousands of speeding fines to be refunded. In short, a badly written law and sloppy enforcement created loopholes big enough for a monster truck to navigate.

However, I also suggested that those people who are benefitting from the loopholes should remember that they were still speeding. Driving 80 km/h through a construction area with a posted temporary limit of 60 km/h is speeding, regardless of what the normal speed limit is and whether there are or are not workers present. It's unsafe and it does not represent an enormous inconvenience to take your foot off the pedal and spend the additional 30 seconds or so to navigate an area with barricades, narrowed lanes and uneven surfaces. Heck, the police say it's the right thing to do and who am I to argue with them.

The point of this shaggy dog sermon is that the law and the manner it was enforced were both flawed. If people get their money back, that's great. Everyone deserves a break. But let's not equate getting off on a technicality with a moral victory. This is just another case where we should all admit guilt, with an explanation.

• • •

Okay, so I'm going to ask Bryan Scott of Winnipeg Love or Hate to take my next mug shot picture, because if he can make this look elegant, he can make a 40-something columnist look like a Calvin Klein Model.

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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