On this editorial I’m going to tell you a story. And to begin the story I’ll give you a little background: I’m that nerd driver who does a full stop on a stop sign and looks both ways even though there’s not a soul in sight at 6:00 in the morning. I’m obsessive compulsive when it comes to speeding and never (ever, ever) have I gotten a speeding ticket. I’ve gotten parking tickets but always in error or by unintentional circumstances, and I’ve been able to explain why and had them either cancelled or reduced. So it was quite a shock to the system for me when I found myself hearing that foreboding siren behind me urging me to stop on a balmy August afternoon with my 12-year-old sitting beside me on a street of a city that I will just call the City of Shivering.
The officer explained to me what I had done: She was travelling west to east and I was going east to west. She said I was going at 70 km/hr on a designated construction zone. She lowered the km to 55 and handed me the speeding ticket. Now, I’ve driven on that street hundreds if not thousands of times. Deep down inside my gut alerted me that a mistake must’ve been made, but I was too freaked out to know better and say something. Then I went home and thought about it more calmly. I drove back to the area and lo and behold construction began well after the street where I had been stopped. Mind you, if you were coming from the other direction, like the officer was, you would think I was speeding in a construction zone. I clearly saw how the officer would’ve made that mistake.
I received an Early Resolution meeting notice and I hoped I could sit down with someone and explain what happened. I have received parking tickets in other municipalities and in all other instances I was able to sit with someone and calmly explain the situation, and the issue was dealt with swiftly. Not so in the municipality of let’s call it Fulham Pigeon, where I attended the meeting last November. When I got there, hoping to solve this as I’d done before, there was a woman calling out instructions to people right from the hall, and she wasn’t giving anyone a chance to speak. I had no chance whatsoever to explain or to even ask a question. She was in a rush— very brusque and snappy— and she was just sending people off to schedule a trial date. She did this to a few people before me. That morning was a complete waste of time and I realized I was going to have to waste yet another day to go to trial. And just as bad (if not worse) so would the officer, and all the court personnel. We were spending valuable time and resources on something that could’ve been solved in 5 minutes, if that.
A few months later I received the letter stating the date and time to attend court. The ticket-issuing officer would be there and they also sent me (as I had requested) her notes and information on the gadget she used to measure my speed. All fair and true information, except I had not been driving in a construction zone. But that explanation would have to wait till my day in court. Now, I could have taken the easy way out: just pay the ticket and “Fahgettaboudit”, especially because the letter I received had been quite threatening, stating that if convicted higher penalties may result. But as a journalist this situation really piqued my curiousity and I needed to know if this is what the process was for traffic violations in my municipality. No one was listening, we were wasting valuable resources at the expense of taxpayers and all because no one was taking the time to review this and I’m sure many other cases that really didn’t need to go to court.
My trial date was set for last Friday. So I got all my proof ready, made a slide show of all the pictures I had and off I went, iPad in hand. I was extremely nervous, but gosh darn it, I was going to be heard! Once I got to court, I waited a few minutes to speak with the prosecutor, which the letter had stated I could do a few minutes before the trial began. I skimmed through the room and it was hard not to notice that more than half (maybe more than 80%) of those charged were ethnic minorities. This tidbit may be irrelevant to this story but it was just too obvious to not comment on this fact. #JustSayin’
I had a chance to explain to the prosecutor and she suggested I show the pictures and explain to the officer what the circumstances were. The judge finally came into the chambers and all the cases started to be presented. As a reporter, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to pay more attention to the proceedings (all of the people before me were found guilty, but their fines were lowered) but I was anticipating my chat with the officer and growing increasingly nervous about it. After everyone except for one man was left, the prosecutor asked the ticket-issuing officer, who had just come into the room, to review her notes. She did and then we had a chance to chat.
She didn’t agree with my explanation. She was certain I had driven through a construction zone, but I didn’t give up on my explanation and I was not intimidated. I knew I had the proof and having all those pictures with me was unequivocal evidence. I understand how the error had been made and how any one would’ve made the same mistake. And so I explained to her. I also understand that sometimes it’s human nature to not want to give in and to admit you’re wrong, but after some more convincing on my part and presenting irrefutable proof she said, “Let me talk to the prosecutor.”
I only caught the officer whispering to the prosecutor a couple of words: withdrawing and 70 (which in reality, as I admitted to her, I was doing: driving 70 km an hour, on a 60 km limit. But that was before construction started.) As soon as I heard “withdrawing” my shoulders dropped and I gave a sigh of relief. The 9-month wait and ordeal were over. The irony in the subtle nod of acknowledgement (or was it approval or encouragement) from the only other remaining person being facing charges in court that day—a black guy with long dreadlocks—gave me a feeling of validation for what had just happened. When the judge called me up to the bench and finally said the words “the charges have been withdrawn, you’re free to go,” he once again smiled at me approvingly. I smiled back and I couldn’t help but feel a sort of kinship between us at that moment. I was the only lucky one that afternoon. Everyone else was found guilty. I don’t know what the fate of the guy was as I left the courtroom.
Now, let me be clear: at issue here is not that I received a speeding ticket. Watching the pictures that I presented to the officer, I can absolutely see how the mistake was made. Anyone in her shoes would’ve made the same mistake. She was courteous and respectful when handing out the ticket and professional enough in admitting the charge should be withdrawn—albeit not without a fight. My issue with this situation is in the process: why couldn’t it have resolved back in November, when the early resolution meeting was scheduled? There was really no meeting. This was such a waste of time and taxpayers money because the judge, the clerk, the officers and myself had to take time out of our schedules to attend court. There’s got to be a way to streamline the process and avoid such a waste of money and resources. And as a journalist, this is definitely something I will keep inquiring about.
I took a risk in fighting this ticket (even though I knew all along a mistake had been made) because it could’ve bit me in the butt and it could’ve been much worse than having to pay a speeding ticket (and blemished my perfect driving record). And my offence was minor, compared to other people’s. Did I Have to wait 9 months for this to be resolved? Do the majority of people take the easy way out, not say anything and just pay? Is this simply a money grab? Is this how the system works around here? Watching the news it is disheartening to see how the system fails on a much bigger scale, but it would be interesting to see if the system can be improved upon for minor infractions. The system would be much better for it and taxpayers would be grateful for better use of their hard-earned money.