TO’s War On Cyclists

UPDATE (November 8, 2016):
The other day I got my Notice of Trial in the mail, it was notarized by the city clerk on my birthday. It could be a coincidence or maybe it’s just the city’s way of saying happy birthday, we love that you live here!

The ticket was for $325 which is what you fine a speeding car that runs a red. It’s a very dangerous thing to do, someone could get killed, hence such a huge fine and 2 demerit points. But why apply this to cyclists like me even though I’m traveling 6km/hour along the shoulder of a T intersection? These are not even remotely the same offences yet I’m paying a fine almost double what my bike costs because this cop had a point to prove.

It’s ridiculous and embarrassing to have me stand in front of his car which is also in front of several busy patios, hands over my head, while his dash cam records me, after all I have no records in his database so he’s gotta start somewhere and all that typing apparently was just a ruse. He’s retaliating mad because he thought I saw him and went through the light anyway. If that’s all it took to provoke him, I’m concerned for how this is all set up.

The thing with court is that I’m going to have to pick the issue which is the traffic fine as it relates to the intention of the law, not the letter of the law. In court there’s no room to laundry list so I’m requesting that they allow me (like a motorist) to pay off the fine with service hours or just toss this ticket altogether because the law was unfairly applied. The prosecutor did say (although after the fact) that the tickets also save cyclists lives but I would argue that taking a course could save my life, swiping my ATM card at the prosecutors desk is hardly correctional rehabilitation.

I’m also allowed what’s called Disclosure, which is access to the evidence that the cop is using, such as the dash cam footage. I’ve applied for the full footage of the entire interaction, though it’s kind of worded like they only need to supply me with any evidence he plans on showing. We shall see.

Court Date: June 5, 2017 at 9AM
1530 Markham Road
Scarborough, Ontario

(Also, really Scarborough?!)


SATURDAY JUNE 18, 2016
The conflict between cyclists, cars and pedestrians has been heating up. My friend and fellow cyclist Cate Creede explored this power struggle in her recent blog post about alterity, the us/them paradigm and it affects our ability to share the road. And the authorities supporting this by giving out tickets to cyclists under the Provincial Highways Act, which treats a bicycle like a large motorized vehicle. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it will bring in a whole lot of city revenue.

As the cyclists movement takes up increasingly more space we’ll continue to experience a backlash. Historically, any self-identified community (i.e. the women’s movement, AIDS, LGBT, black, latino, etc.) has found themselves facing increased retaliation as they gain in power and visibility. The bike community is the the same thing: most drivers have had the roads all to themselves for so long that this shift into sharing feels like they are losing something. Being in a car does not mean one owns the road, it’s just that they have been the most popular and dominant form transportation thus far and as Cate reminds us, cyclists pay taxes too.

THE TICKET 
I’m riding my bike along Danforth Avenue and a siren bleeps and chirps shocking me a little and I twitch but keep riding. I move closer to the shoulder of the sidewalk and I’ve now got a pretty rigid grip on my handles so I ease up a bit and relax my shoulders back. I take a deep breath and then the siren chip-chirps but keeps going and seems to be right behind me. The sound travels through my body and I look over my left shoulder to see a white police SUV with it’s sirens on. The cop motions for me to get to the side of the road and as I do I’m getting really anxious and my hands have started to shake just a bit. I stop my bike at the shoulder, he pulls up beside me so I’m near the passenger window and gets out and walks around the front of his truck which is radiating heat like it’s a rolling oven.It’s the hottest it’s been all week and just peaking now at 32+ degrees with barely a breeze. He stands in front of my bike over me and says in a really serious tone “Are you aware of what you just did?” Judging by his posture and the way he was looking at me I figured it must be something serious, but what? I’m not in the habit of committing crimes so theoretically I should just chill out but this feels like they know something I don’t and so my mind is racing.

“When you got the light you looked right over at me and just continued on through the red as if you didn’t care.” he says with a trace of anger mixed in. I immediately do the default Canadian thing and say “Sorry,” followed by “I honestly had no idea I went through a red. I’m not trying to excuse what I did, I made a mistake and wasn’t paying attention… I’ve been out all afternoon putting up posters and I’m exhausted.” I even mention that I probably have a bit of heat stroke but none of this matters anyway because I’m aware of what’s really motivating this, ego. The cop thinks I looked “right at him” and in an act of defiance deliberately broke the law.

“Honestly, I didn’t see you there.” I plead again which seemed to have some minor impact because his demeanour softened, just a tad. He started going on about how he wished he didn’t have to ride around all day giving out tickets but it’s for everyone’s safety. Just a whole lot of back-peddling if you ask me.

He asks if I’ve been in trouble before. “No” I tell him. And then he wants to see my ID, I hand him my credit card but he wants a license, which I don’t have. He firmly tells me that it’s the law that I carry ID. Really?! This is really the law? I use my Health Card as ID or my passport and there no way I would consider bringing either of those out with me while I peddle around putting up posters. What for?! I’m out riding for a few hours on my bike in broad daylight. As far as a licence to drive a car I have never had one and likely never will so I just don’t have one to give him.

He goes back around into his car and starts typing into his computer. Apparently there’s nothing on my file but of course now he’s adding all kinds of notes. He asks for my postal code. He’s entering all of my basic information into his computer before claiming that he was “Almost done.”

M or F?Only to add, “One more question Raymond, male or female?” I respond with “Neither”.

“That’s not an option today.”
“Then Female” I say.
“Not today.”
“I get to decide how I identify” is all I can think to say, he checks off ‘Male’ reducing me to his personal heteronormative view of the world. What just happened here and why did he even ask? When I was in grade four I had a horrible art teacher who used to give us what he called The Three ChoicesThese ‘choices’ were printed in big letters on coloured craft paper and stapled to the wall immediately to the left of the classroom door so we were always aware of them. Choice One was to copy word for word from an art history text book of which he kept many at the back of the room for this purpose. Choice Two was to lay forward onto the desk in front of you with your head in your arms for the remainder of class. Choice Three was to go the principles’ office.These options were not only frustrating, they allowed him to halt any situation and gain full control over the room. It didn’t matter what had happened or who was right this was an authority figure tricking us into options that only he wanted.

fineThe cop hands me a $325 ticket, the maximum fine, and tells me I now have three options. I think to myself the same thing as back in grade four: there’s another choice Mr. Authority figure and that’s for me to not play this game with you any more. I feel attacked, except without any marks to prove it.

He warns me that if I’m considering Option Three (go to trial) that he would be there adding that, outside of his honeymoon, he has never missed a court date yet. His wife must be so proud.

THE VIDEO
Before I go he wants me to watch the dash cam video of the “incident”. Whatever. I lean into his air-conditioned vehicle and feeling the cool air on my face, look over at the monitor as he begins a running commentary.

“You see the cars going through and the lights now? See it changing… And it’s a red. Now wait a minute… oh, oh and who’s that?! Who’s that? Look who it is… and there you go looking over at me… and now you go anyway.”

This entire interaction has reached the point of ridiculous because all I can think looking at the video is how empty the street intersection is and how slow I am traveling. I wince at the sight of my wobbling and lack of technique and I’m clearly burdened with a knapsack jutting with posters.

THE TICKET OPTIONS
The cop tells me I have three ‘options’ so let’s review these. Options One and Two are both are designed to extract cash from you in almost the same way. Option One: A Plea of Guilty would allow me to voluntarily admit guilt and pay the full fine plus accept a loss in demerit points. Option Two: Early Resolution is about as misleading as a title can get and would be more aptly named the Russian Roulette Discount. Like a casino game, this option is designed to temp me into pleading guilty by offering the potential of a discount but first I would have to surrender my right to disagree with the judges verdict so whatever they decide is final. A case similar to this might see a 20% reduction but there’s no guarantee. Option Three: Trial is so incongruent with truth and honesty because it this requires that I plead ‘not guilty’ (even if you are guilty) so that I can go before a justice of the peace. There’s gotta be a hidden camera here somewhere.

I wasn’t trying to run a red, speed past people or in any way cheat the system. I was just crossing a slow intersection and not paying attention which makes me guilty but hardly a criminal. A slow moving bicycle along the shoulder of the road should not get the exact same fine as a car speeding through the same red light. Shouldn’t the punishment at least have some relation to the crime?

THE PROSECUTOR (THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 22)
I’m frustrated because part of me just wants to pay the fine and be done with this. When things like this happen I realize just how not free a country we are in. Police often follow the letter of the law when they should be looking at the intention behind it. This law under the Highways Act was created because it’s dangerous to speed through an intersection in a big heavy car.

We get to the Markam courthouse which looks more like a deserted mall that had bad sex with a funeral home. We take a seat on the plastic chairs in the designated area and wait for the Prosecutor who comes out a few minutes later. She has tightly pulled back hair and she takes her position at a counter at one end of the room. There are about fifteen of us for the 8:45am slot and when it was my turn the first thing she does after looking up my name and offence was to make me a deal. In one continues sentence she says, “Failure to stop while driving through a red light is a $325 offence which is three demerit points from your license if you plead guilty I can reduce the demerit points to zero with a possibility of a reduced fee what do you want to do?”

Lacking a drivers licence I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with these demerit points of hers. She asks why I thought a reduced fee was warranted and I was stunned. Going through a red at 8km an hour on a bicycle along the shoulder of the road is in no way comparable to the danger of a speeding car. Then she says… wait for it… wait for it, “What if you got hurt?” OMG, she must be kidding. So all of this is for my benefit?

When she asks how I want to proceed I answer with “I would take Option Two but I don’t want to pay so much money.” Instead I offered to do community service hours with Cycle Toronto: Danforth Campaign. I offered to work with them to get the Danforth bike lane extended along Danforth from Broadview Eastbound covering the section of the street I was ticketed on. She said no explaining they don’t have any service hours programs for cyclists, just for drivers of cars. Her final offer is that I could keep all of my demerit points even though I don’t have a use for them. But if I choose to fight the ticket I must first give up all my rights and accept whatever the judge says.“The courts position is that if I pay them money, I’ll be better equipped for the road.”As a way of adding further pressure the prosecutor tells me that if I choose trial then all fine limits are off, meaning that all the penalties could increase. So not only is there no promise of a deal, if I fight this there could be harsher penalties imposed. Oh big brother.

The prosecutor fills out some forms for trial and says they’ll mail the court date to me. And then she reminds me of my right to Disclosure which means I can advance request any written, audio or video evidence that the cop plans to use against me in court.

I’m requesting the text narrative the cop wrote down plus the full video of our encounter, not just the traffic infraction. Now I wait for the mail.


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4 comments

  1. erik

    While I agree that there are plenty of more worthy crimes to tackle, just look at those recent accident numbers out (a pedestrian or cyclist hit every 2.5 hours!), yet you did go through a red light. I really don’t see your argument for fighting this.

  2. miss butter

    So let’s get this right…the cops not only have nothing better to do but they get their own TV show CP24!
    Where’s the TV Show for bike riders? I rode a bike in the city for 8 years and I wouldn’t ride one now knowing that I can get heat from cops for just RIDING MY BIKE!

  3. Paul

    I agree Erik. I am a cyclist, driver and pedestrian and the argument that “I wouldn’t hurt anyone because I’m only riding a bike” is a pretty lame excuse for disobeying the law, regardless if it was an accident on your part and not a flagrant disregard for the rules of the road.

  4. Raymond Helkio

    Erik, that’s my point I am guilty.
    The problem I’m having is that they charged me as if I was running a red light in a car. The Highways Act was never meant to be applied to bicycles. The larger issue is this is a tax on the poor. My bicycle costs $160, the ticket is $325. I didn’t run through the red. I went along the shoulder of the sidewalk and there wasn’t a car or pedestrian in sight. This was really about the cops ego because he though I looked right at him as I went through.

    If a car driver intentionally runs through a red light and got this ticket he could work it off through community hours. Not so with bikes, it’s cash penalties only. I just don’t see jail time as the solution to improve cycling conditions. I asked her straight up if I can take a cycling class, nope she just wanted money because is supposed to make me a better rider. The comparison here is to speeding car trying to run a light with my situation was I didn’t see it. There is no possible way I could have hurt anyone because there was no one around and so I just wanted to be treated fairly.

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