Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Swifter justice for traffic beefs

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Few things are more annoying than a yellow envelope on your windshield that says you violated the city's parking rules and must pay a hefty fine.

In fact, some 3,100 people went to traffic court in 2012 to offer an explanation or contest the tickets they received. That's a small percentage of the nearly 165,000 tickets that were issued in Winnipeg, but enough to put a significant dent in the justice system.

An average of 13 parking offence notices were heard during 244 hearing days in provincial court, tying up magistrates, Crown attorneys, court staff and the ticket-holders who were there looking for some kind of justice.

Some people may even have received parking tickets waiting for their turn at the bar.

It's an enormous expense for a relatively minor offence. And that's why the province has passed legislation that will streamline the process for disputes involving parking tickets and some other bylaw offences.

Under measures in Bill 38, which is awaiting proclamation, parking-ticket challenges will no longer go to court.

Instead, municipal screening officers will be empowered to lower the penalty or even cancel the ticket under certain circumstances. The Winnipeg Parking Authority already does this on a limited, informal basis, but the opportunity for angry motorists to protest will be stronger in the future.

If a ticket-holder is not satisfied with the judgment, he or she can then appeal to municipal adjudicators, who cannot be civic employees to ensure the perception of fairness. Their word, however, will be final.

The new process will also allow for disputes to be settled by telephone or in writing, including by fax, email or other electronic means.

The Association of Manitoba Municipalities has tentatively supported the concept, which gives cities and towns more control over their affairs, including the right to levy administrative fees when tickets are challenged.

Coun. Russ Wyatt, however, chairman of Winnipeg's finance committee, has complained the province is downloading its responsibilities on the city.

Mr. Wyatt is worried about the cost of the new system, but he ignores the fact it will be a lot cheaper for the city to pursue offenders who breach most other bylaws.

Instead of using their legal staff to pursue a case in court, screening officers and adjudicators will also be able to resolve disputes over bylaws that deal with unsightly yards, garbage and other relatively minor issues.

Offenders who refuse to clean up their acts will still be pursued in court, but the intent of the legislation is to achieve compliance.

The legislation will offer greater proportionality in the administration of justice involving minor municipal matters.

It never made sense to fight a parking ticket in court, particularly when most people merely want to offer an explanation. The same is true of minor bylaws, where the goal should be to end the offence and satisfy the neighbourhood.

The new legislation won't make it any easier to accept those yellow envelopes, but it does provide for swifter and more effective justice. If costs go down and compliance rises, everyone will benefit in some way, including the City of Winnipeg.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2013 A8

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