When residents of one St. Vital neighbourhood came home from work Monday evening, many found their vehicles had disappeared without a trace.
But rather than being the handiwork of a prolific daytime thief, the culprit was the City of Winnipeg, which had crews tow dozens of vehicles from Clayton Drive and Bonita Avenue on Monday morning.
And that has one neighbourhood couple accusing the city of a cash grab, after they say city employees put up signs announcing a temporary parking ban for today, towed vehicles away before it kicked in, then planned to hand out $150 fines to everyone.
"They put the signs up (Sunday). They said, ‘No parking, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday.’ So that evening, I phoned 311 just to be sure. We were told not to worry about it, that the street work wouldn’t be done until Tuesday morning," Lorette Morfoot said.
"Then, come Monday, they start early in the morning, towing away all the vehicles. So my husband went down there. He went up to the city employee, who was very rude, and (was told) it was going to cost $150."
Lorette’s husband, Thomas, then walked over to St. Anne’s Road, where the vehicles were being towed and left on the side of the street. He found his truck and drove it back to their apartment, parking in the visitor lot.
Meanwhile, Lorette says she called 311 again to complain and tell them city crews were unfairly towing people’s vehicles. She says the operator told her to expect a $150 fine to come in the mail. In addition, she claims she was given no explanation for why she’d previously been told it was safe to park on the street Monday.
After a few plows went to work clearing snow, Thomas noticed a city employee going around and removing the temporary no-parking signs that had been placed along the road.
"They were taking down the signs one by one, putting them in the back of the truck and buggering off. I went up to him and said, ‘What the hell?’ And he told me, he straight up told me, that they’d placed the wrong signs down," Thomas said.
"So the city puts out the wrong signs. You call 311 and they give you the wrong info. And still they try to find a way to screw you."
When reached for comment, a city spokeswoman said the owners of the towed vehicles wouldn’t have to pay any fines. She said the decision was made on Saturday to place temporary no-parking signs in the area, indicating a Monday parking ban, so city crews could address "snow-clearing deficiencies" on the block.
"Upon completion of the plowing, the no-parking signs were removed. It was noted during the sign-removal process there were a couple of signs indicating the incorrect day. We do not know if this was a city error or if the correct sticker fell off or if the sign was possibly defaced," the spokeswoman wrote.
But Thomas claims that isn’t true. He says when he first noticed the signs Sunday, every one he saw lining his block indicated a parking ban for today. In addition, he says if it was only a matter of the wrong signs being placed, the 311 operator would have told them not to park on the road when they called.
"They’re lying. It’s as simple as that. They’re covering their tracks. Pulling off stickers? People don’t go around pulling off the stickers on no-parking signs. The city doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing. There’s no co-ordination at all. Taxpayer money wasted on this?" Thomas said.
"Why would the city employee have been going around writing down the (vehicle identification numbers) and licence plates if they weren’t going to fine anybody? He told me to my face they were going to fine me $150."
Lorette says they’re not the only neighbourhood residents upset and wonder if any other St. Vital neighbourhoods were affected as well. At this point, despite the city’s assurances, she’s still expecting a ticket to come in the mail.
"I don’t trust them anymore. They just lied to us. Lots of people are upset and I think they have the right to be. And when other people come home looking for their vehicles, they will be, too. And the city better not ticket them over on St. Anne’s Road because they’ve left their car in a no-parking lane or something."
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.