James Strachan stunned to discover his licence was suspended — four years after the fact — after he was late to pay a speeding ticket. Now the province wants him to start over like he’s a brand new driver.
James Strachan is fighting to get his licence back amid a bureaucratic nightmare that stems from paying a speeding ticket a couple of months late.
Strachan is 40 years old, works downtown, lives in a semi-detached house in Leslieville with his dog, a Great Dane named Nina Simone, and says he’s never been in trouble in his life.
He’s had parking tickets, and he did receive a couple of speeding tickets over the years, but they weren’t anything serious. The last one, back in 2013, was issued on the 401 out near Oshawa and the citation said he was going 15 kilometres over the speed limit.
He put the ticket in the glove box and forgot about it.
Weeks later — he got the ticket in February 2013, and by this time it was July — he went looking for something in the glove box and came across the ticket. The next day he went to a ministry of transportation office downtown and paid it, plus an additional fine for being late with payment. Then he forgot all about it again.
Four years later, on the Family Day long weekend of this year, he was driving near Huntsville when he was pulled over by the OPP. The officer told him that his licence was under suspension — and had been since 2013.
“The cop,” said Strachan, “who was a very nice and polite guy, was driving one of those new cruisers that have technology to automatically scan and check every plate they encounter. My driver’s abstract came up on the computer screen and showed that my licence was under suspension.
“I was shocked; it was news to me.”
Strachan, who works in a legal capacity for a Crown corporation, was with a friend who drove them back to Toronto.
The OPP officer had suggested he go to a Service Ontario office to have his licence reinstated, so Strachan went to a kiosk in a store on Lake Shore Blvd. He paid $150, expecting to get his licence back.
Only then, after he had paid, was he told that his licence could not be reinstated. For that to happen, he was told, he would have to go through the province’s graduated licensing program from scratch, a process that can take up to two years and cost about $300, plus tax.
Graduated licensing is geared to help new drivers get driving experience gradually. It involves two road tests — the first to get from level one to level two (after which the new driver doesn’t have to have a licensed driver in the vehicle with them) and the second to earn full driving privileges.
Strachan is not happy about this state of affairs. He’s been driving for 24 years — since he was 16. He is determined that one way or another, whether it be through the courts or by embarrassing the ministry, he will get his licence reinstated without having to jump through hoops.
“I can understand a policy that has people go through the (graduated licensing) program who haven’t driven anything for three or four years,” he told the Star in an interview. “But I’ve been driving the whole time. To make me start over, right from the beginning, is preposterous.”
Strachan says he was never informed by anyone — the ministry, his insurance company, Service Ontario — that his licence was suspended.
“I’m not saying the ministry didn’t try to inform me,” he said. “I’m saying that I wasn’t informed. The ministry might well have sent a letter telling me of the suspension but I didn’t receive it. Somebody else might have found it in their mailbox, but I never received anything telling me this.”
Strachan also says he can’t figure out how he could have renewed his licence plate sticker at least twice, purchased another car and renewed his auto insurance several times without somebody pointing out to him that his licence was under suspension.
Bob Nichols, a spokesman for the ministry, told the Star in an email that while Strachan might have paid a higher fine back in 2013 because he was late paying off the ticket, records show he did not pay a reinstatement fee at that time.
Strachan says that, because he was not notified of the suspension, he didn’t think to ask about any reinstatement fee and that the clerk at the ministry office didn’t volunteer the information that his licence was suspended.
“While I wouldn’t have been thrilled to pay the $150 back in 2013,” he said, “I’d certainly have done it had anybody ever bothered to tell me. Why they would think anyone would put themselves into this predicament voluntarily is beyond comprehension.”
Wrote Nichols: “We’ve talked to this particular individual and have explained how and why we require retesting. Drivers are informed on their ticket that the driver’s licence can be suspended if no action is taken within a certain timeframe.
“A Notice of Suspension (NOS) is then sent to the driver advising of the unpaid fine and suspension and the steps required to reinstate their driver’s licence, including paying the reinstatement fee. Information on the back of the NOS advises that if the reinstatement is not paid, the licence will be cancelled without further notice.”
Nichols noted that if a person hasn’t had a valid driver’s licence for three years, they would have to go through the graduated licensing process as set out in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. The driver must also successfully undergo a vision, knowledge and road test, and pay the applicable fees, he said.
He added: “The suspension was not flagged when he renewed his licence plates because the ministry does not require an applicant to hold a valid driver’s licence when renewing a vehicle licence plate and/or registering a vehicle in Ontario.”
Strachan called this “a bureaucratic bit of nonsense,” and disputed several things Nichols had said.
“I have not talked to anyone from the ministry,” Strachan said. “To say that the ministry has talked to me is false. When this happened, I wrote Minister (Steven) Del Duca to ask for an explanation and asked nine specific questions. In reply, I got back something that read like a form letter and which did not answer even one of my questions. It was signed ‘VJ119.’
“I have no idea if that is even a person. That, plus a computer-generated acknowledgement of the receipt of a second email, is the only contact I have had with the ministry. I wrote the minister again and this time made a suggestion. O. Reg. 340/94, s. 24 (1) says that when there is a dispute, a temporary licence may be issued while there is an investigation. I suggested they could do this for me while this got straightened out but so far I have not received any further correspondence.
“And if it’s true that the ministry does not require a driver’s licence in order for someone to renew plates, why does it ask for that information on the application?”
Strachan misses driving his car but says it’s not the end of the world. Yes, he’s had to make some adjustments: he can’t drive his dog down to Cherry Beach to run but he exercises her in a park closer to home; he plays recreational hockey but the organization he plays in and the rink are near the northern border of North York and a return trip on public transit can take anywhere from three to four hours so he doesn’t play as often. Nor does he see his family as much. He always took transit to work, so that hasn’t changed.
So where does Strachan go from here?
“I haven’t decided,” he said. “I’m considering a lawsuit — or maybe I’ll just gate-crash the minister’s office. I’m told he doesn’t have discretionary powers in situations like this, that he can’t overrule anything or anyone, and I find that clearly bizarre.
“This whole thing defies comprehension and would appear to not be safety-driven, which I can appreciate, but revenue-driven, which I understand but don’t necessarily condone.”
Asked if the transportation ministry could tell the Star the number of drivers who have to be retested each year because they haven’t had a valid licence for more than three years, spokesman Nichols emailed back:
“We do not have that information readily available. To obtain the data, a special request would need to be submitted . . . We would then be able to provide the estimated time and cost of the request.”
Strachan said that, by coincidence, he was telling a friend about his problem and the friend replied that something similar had happened to him but that he’d had to pay the reinstatement fee before he could receive his sticker.
“I have a feeling this might be bigger than just me,” he said.