Dead tickets and zombie bylaws…

If you live in Montreal, you probably heard of the blind zeal with which the SPVM distributes tickets & fines that are too often excessive, petty and/or absurd.

It’s already disgusting enough that their « noble mission » is eclipsed by the obligation to reach, by any means possible, a predetermined budget, but did you know that some of these tickets are actually invalid from the outset, drawing upon repealed regulations?

Did you know that if you don’t know, and wouldn’t think to even ask the question, then you will have to pay anyway?

Did you know that the prosecutor’s office is now well aware that not all SPVM agents seem to care much about such details as using proper bylaws when writing tickets?

But « so what, if people are dumb enough to pay anyway it’s their problem ». That’s pretty much what a Montrealer who brought up the issue was told, to then be told not quite politely that he should mind his own business.

He tried to alert media, some of whom had repeatedly covered cases directly concerned by his findings, but to no avail. Here is his testimony:

Dead tickets and zombie bylaws…

During the past month I have found that the SPVM have made mistakes writing bylaws upon tickets, and also that it has issued tickets under a bylaw effectively repealed, including a very notorious case of someone ticketed for sitting on the grass in a park. Many tickets are being cancelled of the first type, P-12.2, but my attempts to do something about P-3, the zombie bylaw, have been stonewalled.

On 6 August, Katie Nelson announced she was to appear in court for « having poured a liquid on the public domain (saliva)” in August 2012. I then found out through photographic evidence that the SPVM issued tickets at that time under P-12.2 Article 3. I was aware that Ville-Marie bylaw CA-24-085 « suppresses » some P-12.2 articles in the borough. I confirmed that Article 3 is one of them. I asked Katie if she in fact had such a ticket, and she said yes. I told her that the ticket was bad.

On 7 August, Katie Nelson informed the prosecutor of the invalidity of her P-12.2 ticket. The prosecutor was very accommodating and withdrew to go upstairs to discuss the matter with her superiors. When she returned, she told her that they’d check this one and others issued under P-12.2 and that possibly hundreds of tickets could be invalidated. When the judge arrived, the prosecution asked to delay the proceedings to another date so that they could look into these tickets.

Days later I found out that many boroughs have “suppressed” P-12.2 entirely thus extending the range of territory of invalidated tickets beyond Ville-Marie.

On 22 August I discovered that tickets issued under the P-3 parks bylaw are bad as the whole bylaw is repealed with regards to parks. This is contained in the 2010-vintage parks bylaw 0-020, Article 18. This discovery would affect Katie Nelson who got one (swearing in the park) as well as François Gendron, ticketed on 29 July for sitting in the grass. I sent the information to Anarchopanda because I figured he’d be able to propagate it.

On 23 August, following her press conference where she announced her lawsuit against the city, Katie Nelson was in court for three tickets, including two P-12.2s . Immediately, the prosecutor said she was withdrawing the P-12.2s as a result of what I found on 6 August. The other one was put off for another date. One of the P-12.2s was issued for something that happened in Plateau Mont-Royal, indicating that prosecutors had widened their search and suppression of P-12.2s outside Ville-Marie.

Evening of 23 August, Anarchopanda issued a Facebook post describing the P-3 situation as well as mentioning the P-12.2 situation. It did not really get anywhere as I see no evidence that it was shared as he requested.

On 26 August I called two media outlets about the P-3 situation out of concern that François Gendron, ticketed for sitting in the grass on 29 July, would pay the fine. These initiatives, as well as subsequent ones, went nowhere.

On 27 August I went to court, to the prosecutor office to notify them of the P-3 situation but the person in charge of tickets said that I have no standing to bring up this issue and not only that, he insinuated that I was doing something wrong. I concluded that he was of the opinion that it was all right for people to pay fines for things that are not illegal.

As far as I am concerned, the prosecutor in charge of tickets had the opportunity to solve this problem and if Francois Gendron or anyone else pays fines because of his failure to act the responsibility will be his. Hopefully the media will do something to ensure justice is done in their cases, though it’s clear that one cannot count on that.

I have an idea about how this has happened; since legal aid has been removed since the mid-1990s in the case of tickets, and since many tickets carry fines that do not justify paying a lawyer to fight the cases, these cases are fought without lawyers and thus trained professionals do not examine these situations and thus these errors multiply without detection. That Montreal was politically reorganised in 2002 and 2005 has created overlapping jurisdictions, a clear source of confusion.

Police make mistakes but nearly nothing ever is known of them. I wonder at times if police know they’re passing out bad tickets and know that as the fines are seen to be insufficient to be worth taking time off work to show up in court, not worth the aggravation, the ticketed people dutifully pay the fines. It becomes a sort of extortion racket, a smaller scale version of the asset forfeiture scam that police carry out in the United States where they seize amounts not worth paying a lawyer to recover and that money adds up to pay to maintain their militarised SWAT teams.

I recently spoke to people who spoke of police accusing people of different things for precisely the same act with the exact same “evidence”, I spoke to someone passed tickets that were clearly nonsense based on what is written in the bylaws. I could not but conclude that they expect that many people hit with tickets would stop going to demonstrations, and that many would give up and pay the fines though the tickets are nonsense, that those fighting them on their own would not have the confidence to research and examine the bylaw language and argue that what happened did not fit the definition of the offence under the bylaw/article in question.

I was told that after 30 people were given experimental 500 Paragraph 1 tickets, never before decided in a court of law, on 22 October 2012 for marching on Station 21 in support of photographer Emmanuel Denizon, more than half agreed to pay the fine. They did this even though it has never been established that what they did violated 500.1, and even though its constitutionality itself remains in question. It is my belief that one person paying a fine for something that is nonsense because he or she is intimidated, or made to think that whatever the police says is a violation will cause the judge to think so, encourages further acts by the police of this kind and that measures should be taken to prevent this.

In the case of the invalidated tickets, it just so happened that someone took a look at the situation and was not afraid to draw a conclusion based on what he saw, and Katie Nelson was not afraid to bring this up in her initial P-12.2 case. I think one of the problems I am having in the P-3 case is a reluctance of people to believe that police are issuing incorrect tickets and that no one saw it but someone who appears so small, so insignificant as I.




5 réflexions sur “Dead tickets and zombie bylaws…

  1. There may be questions about what happened with the prosecutor in charge of tickets. He may have been working from this idea of « standing » before a court. There’s this case where Chris Hedges and others challenging the Military Commissions Act in the US argued that the risk that they’d be imprisoned as enemies of the state allows them to do so. The judge ruled that as it has not happened to them yet, they have no « standing » to challenge the law.

    This is not what happened here. Katie Nelson went to court on 7 August with her own case and made her request to the Prosecutor before the judge entered. The Prosecutor then went to see other prosecutors and the Prosecution requested to the judge the delay and the prosecution would look into the matter. This was entirely a Prosecution initiative. It was not a request before a judge by someone with « standing ». Thus, when the Prosecutor in charge of tickets told me that I had no right to bring up the subject because I did not have a ticket under P-3, he was wrong as I simply showed up as someone who had noticed this error and as the Prosecution took the initiative the last time to go through the tickets, I expected that there was a reason to believe that the Prosecution would do likewise this time.

    It could be that as Katie Nelson’s case was about to be seen before a judge, that this issue of P-12.2 could not wait, but as I did not have P-3, there was no hurry to look into it. Thus, in the case of this prosecutor in charge of tickets, it was all right that people are paying fines for things not illegal unless it becomes absolutely necessary to stop it, and that would be in the context of such a case appearing before a judge. Still, I suppose that in the Katie case the Prosecutor could have decided not to go into the other P-12.2s and only deal with Katie’s. Then again there was media present at her appearance.

  2. I want to mention also this; the P-12.2s are mistakes made by police, I’m sure they’d rather not make them; they could have not made them and people would still answer for the ticket, often times issued as a result of profiling, of prejudice. It’s my opinion that the « spilling liquid on the public domain (saliva) » could only apply to someone emptying a spittoon onto the public domain; spitting is insufficient I think, and the ashes one also suggests large quantities of ash, far more than what a cigarette would leave on the sidewalk. The P-3 is different because certain prohibitions therein were not retained for the new parks bylaw. So this is a case of people being ticketed for things no longer illegal. It is true that cops can ticket someone under Article 9 B-3 (noise) for « audible noise » instead of swearing in the park… but that is something else that must be seen to. I find it intolerable that noise complaint tickets be issued without a noise complaint by someone who is not a cop. The Audible Noise ticket is a favourite « contempt of cop » ticket, particularly as there is an « imprecation » clause there. The point of this bylaw is to deal with noise complaints and nothing else! Normally, people are warned first when there’s a noise complaint as often people are unaware. I hope that Julius Grey can help bring sanity to this situation when he handles Katie Nelson’s abusive Audible Noise tickets.

  3. Well, well, well, Anarchopanda has directed me to the Facebook account of the 29 July park ticket recipient. Reading his statement concerning that as well as absorbing the overall tone of the account, it would be a delicious irony to have him spared a fine by the likes of… us. I am pleased that he said he is contesting the ticket which should ensure that he does not pay the fine as the matter should be cleared up by the time it would normally come up for trial.

  4. I have an update here. First, there are still P-12.2s being judged, even though it’s suppressed almost everywhere. I have since examined cases regarding the interpretation of the Code of Penal Procedure and the prevailing view permits changing bylaws on tickets if there’s an equivalent provision in the good bylaw, and yes, they can hike the fine if the minimum fine is higher. I do not agree with this interpretation of the language of Article 151 of the Code, but there you go.

    Why were they throwing out tickets? I do not know, I did tell Katie of this possibility and it’s good that she won this gamble with one of the affected tickets, others would have went down anyway for the language of the infraction does not exist in the correct bylaw.

    For example, in Ville-Marie, a very general « you are not allowed to dirty the public domain » provision has replaced more specific ones in P-12.2 so many of those are no longer in force no matter the interpretation. Much of P-3 also. The other day I told someone, « you got convicted under an expired bylaw », as it was one of those under P-12.2.

    Now, I’m going to say the thing that upsets me right now, and that’s that I did try to have something done about P-3 but they didn’t listen to me. Well, someone I know was convicted by default under that expired bylaw for a provision not with an equivalent under the new Bylaw 10-020. Had the media reported this something could have been done to stop it. As it is, nothing was done and someone was convicted for something that is not an infraction, that is not illegal.

    I also saw on the internet a case of someone who got one of those P-1 Article 5 tickets (failing to stop breaking a rule) and in court, the prosecutor disclosed the bylaw the person allegedly broke, and that was a bylaw passed and in force in the Sud-Ouest borough, even though the alleged offence took place in Ville-Marie. That is so blatantly illegal. So illegal. The person was acquitted, but still, that is something very much outrageous.

  5. I work downtown with the homeless and it is saddening to see so many suffer from the debt weight of these fines. The average amount in dollars is $6,000 – $7,000 each. If not paid immediately, these double and even triple within a matter of months. Many newspaper articles gave been written about the ineffectiveness of these tickets but it seems the city still insists on handing them out. I want to give these people on the street something to fight these ridiculous fines so this article was invaluable. Thanks

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