Well, I got my day in court. Well, more like ten seconds in court.
Last March, one of Halifax’s ever-vigilant parking cops slipped a ticket under my wiper. I was accused of parking against the direction of traffic.
That morning, I got stuck in the deep, icy ruts on a street near the university. A dusting of fresh snow had fallen into the ruts, so the tires of my little Toyota Matrix were trying to grip a loose, skittish layer that was itself sliding on top of ice that was on the edge of melting. No matter how much I rocked the car, and skillfully played the clutch, I wasn’t going anywhere. After 20 minutes or so, a couple of young guys helped push my car out of the middle of the road, and it ended up facing the wrong way, by the curb. My plan was to come back when conditions had changed.
I returned a couple or hours later to find my little gift from the city.
I did some research afterward and found that from 2012 to 2014, exactly nobody got a ticket for this offence, according to Halifax city data. For good reason; who would ever park in the wrong direction? Of course, I did because the city hadn’t maintained the street.
I decided to fight the ticket.
Late in the spring, I was summoned to Nova Scotia Provincial Court to answer for my now unpaid parking ticket. This is when I discovered the sausage-factory, negative-option process used to deal with people with unpaid parking tickets. The whole thing reminded me a bit of that old 80s TV show Night Court.
There was a justice of the peace up front, who had the practiced and slightly bored manner of someone who has done something a lot. A court clerk sat to her left. Behind the bar sat our motley crew of minor offenders.
Anyone summoned there that night was on a list. If you showed up, you got to give your name and enter a plea. I knew from my summons that if I hadn’t shown up, I would be convicted automatically. That’s the negative option part.
It was all very orderly. I went to the microphone, gave my name, and got my date with justice.
It was to be in late August.
As the date of my trial approached, I did some research on precedents and found three Supreme Court of Canada cases that seemed to be on point. I printed out pictures of the impassable roadway that I had taken that morning, and wrote up what I was certain would be a brilliant defence.
I showed up at court at 7 p.m. as directed, along with a few others, and a couple of police officers clearly there to give testimony. A crown prosecutor, with his briefcase and suit, cruised in right on deadline.
First up were a couple of folks who had hired a lawyer. They changed their pleas to guilty. Probably a plea bargain.
Then the crown prosecutor got up from his chair. He proceeded to say he’d talked to a couple of people in the lobby. He was withdrawing the charges against them (apparently you can just have a chat with the Crown when you go to court for a parking ticket).
Finally, the prosecutor mentioned my name. The presiding judge asked if I was there. I stepped forward, a bit nervous, but ready for my big moment.
The prosecutor said he wouldn’t be calling any evidence. With no evidence, there was no case. The Crown withdrew the charge. The judge said I was free to go.
All in all, it was fascinating to watch the wheels of parking ticket justice.
It had taken a couple of evenings of my time, a couple more hours to prepare my case, and a few bucks at Costco to make enlargements of my pictures.
But the money was never really the issue; it was the principle. Getting a ticket from the city because you got stuck on a street not property maintained by the city, after having taken the only reasonable action possible, seemed unjust.
I’ll never know if I would have beaten that ticket. I’m just a little bit disappointed I didn’t get to find out. But it did teach me one important lesson. You can fight city hall.