The City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba are both throwing out red herrings in an effort to distract attention from the central issues in the photo-radar fiasco.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/5/2009 (4548 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

The City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba are both throwing out red herrings in an effort to distract attention from the central issues in the photo-radar fiasco.

The city is claiming poverty and citing budgetary restrictions to explain why it might not be able to refund the fines that were wrongly issued to motorists, while the province is still talking about how a failure to erect proper signage at speed-controlled construction zones is somehow relevant to the discussion.

The fact is that both levels of government are liable for the injustice, which must be corrected.

The city claims it is broke and that it has no way to repay its share of the wrongfully collected booty, partly because provincial legislation prohibits it from running a deficit. Moreover, the city claims it is counting on the spoils of photo radar to cover a shortfall in this year's operating budget. Unfortunately for the city, justice is, or should be, blind to these petty complaints and excuses. It's also disingenuous for the city to claim it would have no way to come up with the cash. In fact, the city has many options for doing the right thing. The province could pass legislation allowing the city to borrow the money on a one-time basis. The city could also dip into its reserve funds, or even cancel its reduction in the business tax.

As the enforcer of photo radar, the city should have been familiar with the law governing its use in construction zones. Either it didn't read the law, or it decided to ignore it. Either way, it cannot shirk its responsibility.

The province's liability is clear because it was provincial legislation that created photo radar and provincial law that said motorists could only be ticketed in construction zones when construction workers were present. The law was also written in ways that make attempting to fight the tickets pointless. As such, the legislation effectively strips citizens of their right to due process, which puts a heavier onus on the province to correct its mistakes without resorting to distractions.

Premier Gary Doer has implied that the city is responsible for the screw up because it did not post signs indicating where the speed-controlled zones ended, which is also why the province claims it did not appeal the magistrate's ruling that said photo-radar tickets were invalid if they were issued in construction zones where no workers were present. In fact, the question of signage is not an issue in the current debate -- it was trotted out to deflect attention from what Doer government wrote into the law.

What is at issue is whether the province and city will refund the fines that were, according to the judicial decision, wrongly collected. The premier is also hoping to confuse the issue by declaring that public safety is now part of the debate. Photo radar, he claims, has freed up police for more important duties, which has nothing to do with the question of issuing refunds.

It might be difficult for the province to determine how many drivers should get a refund; it might be expensive, possibly well over $10 million; and it might be inconvenient for governments to balance budgets.

The same arguments could have been used to deny justice to the likes of David Milgaard and Jim Driskell, whose wrongful convictions for murder were great inconveniences to the justice system and very expensive for government treasuries.

The level of individual suffering in the photo radar fiasco might seem trivial -- $200 or $300 per person weighed against the enormous total cost to government -- but such an argument ignores the principle that everyone is responsible for their behaviour and that not even governments are above the law. The province should stop obfuscating the issue and start a process to refund the money that it wrongly picked from taxpayers' pockets.

That is the only issue it needs to consider.