GO Transit tickets that go to a collection agency are about to get $20 bigger.
Metrolinx is adding the extra fee as a way to make up the cost of going after the 29 per cent of delinquent fines that end up in collections. Most tickets written up by GO officers are for fare evasion ($100) and illegal parking (usually $25).
Of the 28,714 fines GO issued since July 2010, 8,455 have been sent to a collection agency hired in 2012.
That adds another layer of cost to chasing down the offenders.
So on Friday, the Metrolinx board approved tacking on an extra $20 to tickets that have been sent to the collection agency.
The idea is to “allow some of the costs of collection to be passed on to the debtor whose account is outstanding, rather than being taken from the outstanding debt,” according to a report to the board.
“It is a cost factor for us to bring in a collection agency to seek out those funds,” said CEO Bruce McCuaig.
Seventeen per cent of the ticket value — $4.25 to $17 — goes to cover the collection agency’s costs, said Metrolinx. The longer the ticket is in collections, the more the agency charges.
Since the collections process was launched, Metrolinx, which operates GO, has paid out about $8,115.00 in commissions.
GO collected about $825,000 in fines during the 2012-2013 fiscal year. From April 2013 to December 2013, it collected about $530,000.
Unpaid fines also add up to extra costs in staff time and reminder notices.
“GO issues several letters to the individual prior to collections being initiated,” said spokesperson Vanessa Thomas.
McCuaig said there’s a range of reasons people don’t pay their fines.
“Some of it may be (the difficulty of) locating people who have received the penalty,” he said. It could also be that they have appealed to the transit agency’s alternative dispute process, which was introduced in 2009.
The process allows riders to make their case for a fine reduction with a GO screening officer. If there’s no resolution, the dispute can go on to one of GO’s hearing officers — lawyers and judges who are paid to rule on the matter.
Of the 28,714 tickets issued, 15,590 cases were dealt with by screening officers. Of those, only 332, or 2 per cent, went to a full hearing.
“The fines that we are collecting are not a way to subsidize the service. The fines we collect are to administer the system and try to have a real penalty that deters people from parking in the wrong place or (not paying) their fares,” McCuaig said.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan has torn a strip off the province’s anti-drunk-driving scheme, quashing an Immediate Roadside Prohibition handed to a drunk, naked man in a van who claimed not to have keys for the vehicle.
In a judicial review, he criticized as “specious” and “illogical” a Superintendent of Motor Vehicles adjudicator’s ruling upholding the 90-day suspension. But more than that, McEwan indicted the entire appeal process.
The justice savaged the adjudicator’s decision, including the idea that credibility could be inferred from police notes, and said the case illustrated the problem with the administrative proceedings introduced in September 2010 to move drunk-driving out of the courts.
“The statutory regime under which the Superintendent’s delegates operate subtracts most of the means by which credibility can be tested,” said the justice, who has cast a gimlet eye in previous decisions on the Motor Vehicle Act regime touted as the toughest impaired driving law in Canada.
“These include the opportunity to see and hear witnesses, to confront them in cross-examination, to develop a full case, and to have an in-person opportunity to persuade the trier of fact.”
His harsh comments came as Vancouver lawyers raised identical issues, brandishing emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
The emails show the RCMP assisting the Canada Border Services Agency to apply the roadside prohibition law at the border, even though CBSA officers cannot issue the prohibitions.
“CBSA officials have the ability to make a breath demand and detain an individual, where appropriate, as part of a Criminal Code of Canada investigation into impaired driving,” Supt. of Motor Vehicles Sam MacLeod, a former Mountie from Alberta, acknowledged in an emailed statement.
“However, CBSA officials do not have the authority to issue an Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP) under the Motor Vehicle Act. That is because, under the Motor Vehicle Act, the definition of ‘peace officers’ does not include CBSA officials.”
Vancouver litigator Paul Doroshenko, a leading critic of the scheme, said he and other lawyers are appalled at what the RCMP described as a “check sheet” for border officers.
“It’s difficult to actually explain just how awful this is. Police writing a scenario for another organization to use as a stock piece of evidence in every case. It’s surreal.”
The lawyers say the emails between the Mounties and the CBSA raise serious questions about fairness, the fabrication of evidence, and the independence of the superintendent.
Unlike the criminal code, the roadside prohibition scheme imposes severe consequences without the usual protections guaranteed under the Charter of Rights — automatic driving suspensions and up to roughly $4,700 in fines and penalties.
For police, it means infinitely less paperwork, and no court appearances or questions.
“The check sheet is used to ensure that all the relevant information is gathered,” said RCMP Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, a senior media relations officer, when asked about the emails.
“It is used as the CBSA officer’s notes. CBSA may detain a person and have them provide a breath sample into an Approved Screening Device. Depending on the results, the police may get called to investigate. The responding police officer can proceed criminally or by way of Immediate Roadside Prohibition. The information in the template is required in either process.”
However, Faith St. John, CBSA’s communications adviser, said the check sheet “was a concept being considered by the RCMP and CBSA, but was never put into practice.”
The emails — between the CBSA Court Liaison Officer, Pacific Highway District, and RCMP Area Service manager for the Lower Mainland District Traffic Services — show the RCMP creating a scenario under which a border guard can call in a Mountie, who then issues the prohibition.
The fill-in-the-blanks form continues for several paragraphs detailing “constant eye contact,” breath tests, charter warnings, a call to legal aid, until the (subject name) “was then released to a taxi” — presumably the kind of detail adjudicators are looking for.
“Border services officers have a ‘first responder’ type of role with respect to criminal offences under federal Acts of Parliament outside of CBSA program legislation; they have the authority to identify the potential offence, and where appropriate, make the demands associated with impaired driving under the Criminal Code and to arrest the individual,” St. John explained. “At this juncture, the determination as to how the file will proceed is made by the responding police agency.”
Doroshenko said the issue arose after prohibitions issued by border guards were thrown out.
He was horrified, given that the use of “detailed,” “contemporaneously written” notes so often turned up as a factor in determining credibility.
“I can’t believe this is where we got to,” Doroshenko said.
McEwan cited the notes problem in his case — where the adjudicator drew credibility inferences from the officer’s “detailed” notes:
“The fact is, however, that if you create a document-only regime with no opportunity to cross examine, you create a regime where the (very concern imagined in a previous case) — that the story was tailored — may be possible … Whatever the presumed efficiency of this form of hearing is, its drawbacks are intrinsic as well.”
McEwan said there were too many cases where it appears the adjudicators have attempted to rationalize desired results rather than admit a paper case often contains too little evidence to establish the truth, or even the most likely story.
In the naked man’s case, he said that he didn’t have keys to the van. But the police officer’s notes mention seeing the van in motion, although do not note seizing or finding keys.
McEwan said it is impossible to determine who is right.
“The danger in allowing a relaxed standard of proof to accommodate the low standard of evidence is that arbitrary police action will be encouraged rather than deterred,” McEwan said.
When the law supplements “the imposition of penalties with the terrors of arbitrary state processes and foregone reviews,” he added, the courts had a duty to rigorously address “those deficiencies and not to shield them.”
Designated drivers injured in a crash caused by a drunken passenger are not covered by third-party liability insurance, warns a B.C. Supreme Court judge.
In a ruling on an odd personal-injury claim dating back to 2006, Justice Anthony Saunders decided a woman cannot collect an $800,000-plus judgment from ICBC.
Marnetta Felix was driving her inebriated boyfriend Kevin Hearne home to Chilliwack from a soccer tournament on July 8, 2006, when he grabbed the steering wheel, causing her to lose control of the vehicle.
It left Highway 1 and rolled over, severely injuring her, killing him.
In September 2011, Felix was awarded $791,950 in damages, and costs of $71,292.63 against Hearne’s estate.
Under the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act, she sought to recover from ICBC the total amount of $863,242.63 plus post-judgment interest.
In her view, she was no different from a cyclist who is injured by someone who opens a car door — her costs should be covered.
Her lawyers argued that indemnity could be provided to the Hearne estate because he had insurance on his own vehicle, but the judge dismissed that claim as absurd: “Having one’s own owner’s certificate would entitle one to the status of an insured in respect of any motor vehicle, without that vehicle’s owner’s consent, and without having paid any extra premium.”
Alternatively, Felix’s lawyers said she should be covered by third-party liability because Hearne was a passenger who committed a negligent act no different than opening the door on a cyclist.
Moreover, if she were not covered, they insisted, designated drivers would be put at risk.
“It is foreseeable that impaired persons may behave foolishly while being driven by a designated driver, and in doing so could distract the driver or interfere in operation of the vehicle,” Saunders acknowledged.
“Injury to the designated driver might result. In such a situation, to refuse to extend liability coverage to an impaired passenger on the grounds that his or her use of the vehicle as a passenger is not ‘use’ within the meaning of the Revised Regulation would potentially leave an injured designated driver without any means of obtaining compensation.”
The justice thought there was a lot of force to that argument.
“To deprive such drivers of a means of compensation when injured through the negligence of an inebriated passenger is to shift the risk of loss to them entirely,” he said.
“This would appear to be a powerful disincentive to anyone acting as a designated driver, when there was any risk of a passenger acting irresponsibly.”
Nevertheless, the justice said his analysis of the law led him inexorably to the conclusion that Felix was not covered.
“When a passenger in a motor vehicle intentionally interferes with the vehicle driver, is the passenger using or operating the motor vehicle such that his or her actions are covered by motor vehicle third-party liability insurance?” the justice reiterated.
No, he answered — the law did not provide coverage.
The statute, he said, extended indemnity explicitly to a passenger who causes injury or death to a person not occupying the vehicle by operating any part of the vehicle while the vehicle is being operated by an insured.
“On its face, this section would appear to be intended to encompass situations such as a passenger opening a door and thereby interfering with a passing cyclist,” Saunders explained.
But it did not cover situations such as when a passenger has grabbed the wheel.
“(ICBC) is under no obligation to indemnify the Hearne estate, and the plaintiff’s claim must therefore fail,” Saunders concluded. “The consequence of this interpretation as regards designated drivers is one which some may find disturbing. If that consequence was unintended, that is a matter for consideration by the government.”
A trial judge in St. Louis this week held that drivers have a First Amendment right to flash their headlights to warn oncoming vehicles about speed traps ahead.
The case involved a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of a driver who was pulled over and ticketed in the City of Ellisville for flashing his lights after passing a radar trap.
The driver, Michael Elli, was accused of “[f]lashing lights on certain vehicles . . . warning of RADAR ahead,” according to court papers. He faced a fine up to $1,000 as well as points on his license.
After Mr. Elli pleaded not guilty to the moving violation, the city dropped the charge. But he filed suit anyway, accusing the city of violating his constitutional rights.
The city’s police department told the court that it had already stopped going after headlight-flashing drivers, but U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey didn’t think that was a good enough assurance. On Monday, he ordered the city to stop punishing drivers for flickering their high beams.
“The chilling effect of Ellisville’s policy and custom of having its police officers pull over, detain, and cite individuals who are perceived as having communicated to oncoming traffic by flashing their headlamps and then prosecuting and imposing fines upon those individuals remains, regardless” of the city’s decision to change its policy, the judge wrote, granting a preliminary injunction.
Reached for comment, Ellisville police referred Law Blog to a city attorney who wasn’t immediately available. A lawyer for the city told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the ruling wouldn’t have any practical effect on police operations “because for the past nine months we haven’t been enforcing this ordinance in this way anyway.”
Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU’s Missouri chapter, hailed the ruling as a civil rights victory for motorists.
“When someone is communicating in a public street, [he is] expressing [himself] in a way that’s protected by the First Amendment,” Mr. Rothert told Law Blog. “Unless there is a strong reason why the government should be allowed to censor that speech, the police shouldn’t be stopping or prosecuting people because of the content of their speech.”
At an earlier hearing, a lawyer for the city suggested that flashing headlamps might illegally interfere with a police investigation, according to court papers.
Mr. Rothert said he wasn’t sure how many other jurisdictions crack down on so-called speed trap Paul Reveres. But he said that after local press first reported on Mr. Elli’s predicament, dozens of people from around the country contacted his office with stories about how they were pulled over for warning fellow drivers.
ATLANTA — Georgia motorists soon could whip out a cellphone picture of their driver’s license when stopped by police instead of carrying the plastic version.
That could be a plus for people who prefer not to carry a billfold or purse that could be stolen or mar the silhouette of tight jeans. It also recognizes that cellphones soon will be used for purchases, as they already are in other countries, eliminating the need for a pocketful of cash and credit cards.
The Nathan Deal administration is backing Senate Bill 323 in response to public requests. It’s meant to be especially helpful during the wait for the Department of Driver Services to send by mail the traditional, wallet version of a license, according to Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna, the sponsor of the bill.
“They are one of our best customer-service state agencies,” said Hill, who used to serve on the department’s board of directors. “They are constantly operating every day and getting feedback from their public.”
Current law already permits use of paper receipts issued by the department. Hill’s bill adds to that an electronic image of the receipt or a cellphone containing a photo of the front and back of the actual license.
“The presentation of such image on an electronic telecommunications device shall not be deemed as consent to access any other information contained on such devise for any other purposes,” the bill states, meaning embarrassing selfies and snarky text messages would remain private.
While the point of the change was the convenience of drivers when awaiting a new, renewed or reinstated license, Hill acknowledges it would work any time.
“When 99 percent of the population is law-abiding citizens, we need to create laws … that allow for some flexibility for our customers,” he said.
The photos would still be subject to verification by police officers accessing the Georgia Crime Information Center’s database. Since that access is limited to law enforcement, Hill doesn’t see the cellphone pictures serving as identification for bars and restaurants scouting out underage alcohol customers or for voting.
“This is not a provision that would make sense for voting,” he said.