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Will Photo Radar trap Dave Chomiak into pleading "guilty with an explanation"?

Fair warning.

Until further notice we have imposed a speed limit for reading The Black Rod--60 words per minute. Violators should e-mail guilty pleas to us and arrangements will be made to pick up fines.

Now to the matter at hand---photo radar speeding tickets.

First, let us say WE TOLD YOU SO.

In the Spring of 2007 we wrote in The Black Rod:

"Dave "Six Months" Chomiak is still new at the job of Justice Minister. But his legacy of disaster as Manitoba's Health Minister foreshadows his every move."

Now, a shade more than two years later, Chomiak has single-handedly:

* politicized and demoralized the prosecutions branch of the Attorney General's office;
* ignited a firestorm of anger among voters in the NDP bridgehead ridings in south Winnipeg;
* pissed off the police chief of Winnipeg;
* potentially punched a $23 million hole in the provincial budget from threatened speeding ticket refunds;
* and poisoned relations with the City of Winnipeg by blaming civic officials for the mess he created, as well as possibly costing the city millions of dollars in ticket revenue.

And that's just a week's worth of damage. Imagine what's to come.

Chomiak's unravelling began in February when Justice of the Peace Norm Sundstrom dismissed nine speeding tickets. The drivers were caught on photo radar exceeding the posted speed limit at construction zones.

The motorists argued the Highway Traffic Act, the provincial law, says the limited speed in construction zones only applied when workers were present. The Crown responded that the drivers were charged with speeding, not speeding in a construction zone (under which the fine is doubled) so references to workers being present or not was moot. (None of the 9 tickets involved speeding through construction zones where anyone was at work.)

Sundstrom said the signs posting the reduced speed were installed according to sections of the provincial Highway Traffic Act that directly referred to the presence of workers in a construction zone. That, he said, was consistent with the intent of the totality of legislation covering construction zones, namely to protect the safety of workers. With that, he ruled in favour of the motorists.

The Crown announced it would appeal the ruling.

As the public clamor to drop the appeal grew louder and louder, Chomiak put himself on a pedastal as the great defender of democracy standing against the unwashed rabble.

And, showing his true character, he tried to shift the blame to his underlings.

Manitoba Hansard, April 30, 2009

"I want the member to know that in the place where his parents and my parents came from in the old country, prosecutors did what the government told them. That's why our ancestors left that place because prosecutions and police were one in one.
We should stay out of the prosecutions business. That's the judicial separation of powers.

The member makes strong remarks, but I take it very seriously that we do not interfere in political matters as politicians. In fact, if I were to interfere politically, I would have to resign my seat by virtue of parliamentary law, Mr. Speaker. So the member ought to know that."

Uh oh.
Prepare for a by-election.

Chomiak obviously, ahem, forgot how he interfered in 2006 when Queen's Bench Justice Albert Clearwater ruled that Manitoba had the right, not to mention the duty, to impose its smoking ban on Indian reserves. Clearwater quashed the conviction of a non-native bar owner who had let his customers smoke.

The Crown immediately filed an appeal, as the Winnipeg Free Press put it at the time, "fearing the idea that everyone must be treated equally under the law could threaten employment equity measures and programs that offer special incentives to aboriginals, farmers or any specific group."

Do those sound like legal reasons, or political policy that could only be ordered by the minister?

But we digress.

One short day after Chomiak said he wasn't going to give the order to drop the photo radar ticket appeal, the Crown dropped its appeal.

What's more, director of prosecutions Don Slough announced that not only were charges against the nine motorists being dropped, but charges would be stayed on another 850 or so photo radar tickets pending in court.

Here's how the Winnipeg Sun reported the surprise announcement (Photo radar appeal dropped, Tom Brodbeck, Sun Media, 4th May 2009)

"However, the Crown is now dropping the appeal because they've discovered that the legal definition of a construction zone was not met in the nine cases, said Slough.
Under the Highway Traffic Act, photo radar can be used in construction zones. However, in order to meet the legal definition of a construction zone, signs indicating where a construction zone begins and ends must be posted.
Because there were no signs at the end of the construction zones for the nine cases in question, the photo radar cameras were not lawfully used."


Nobody was more surprised at Slough's strange explanation than Justice of the Peace Norm Sundstrom.

That's because Slough's bizarre reasoning is the direct opposite of what Sundstrom determined.

In his 13 page written decision, Sundstrom wrote (emphasis ours) :

"In all the cases herein being considered there was appropriate signage designating a "construction zone" set up at each end of the zone. As well, there were signs indicating that the speed in the zone was 60 kph." (Page 2 of 13)

In short, signage was not an issue at trial and was not an issue in the appeal.

There was absolutely no reason for Slough to address signage -- but there are certainly a million questions as to why he did and why he's contradicting Sundstrom. If you didn't know better, you'd say this smells of .... political interference?

Certainly Dave Chomiak was ecstatic at the outcome. He spent the rest of the week blaming the City of Winnipeg for the mess he was in.

May 5 Hansard

Hon. Dave Chomiak (Minister of Justice and Attorney General:
Mr. Speaker, we put in very strict provisions for the City of Winnipeg to utilize photo radar. ..Mr. Speaker, we put it in for safety purposes. The City of Winnipeg utilized it for different provisions. We had provisions in the act. The City of Winnipeg appeared to not follow the strict provisions of the regulations. When we found out, we told the City of Winnipeg we would no longer prosecute.

Mr. Chomiak: Safety was the reason that bill was put in place to allow the City of Winnipeg to use photo radar only in limited circumstances. When we found out that the City of Winnipeg was using it and, in fact, evidentiary-wise, it was inappropriate ethically, the Crown said, we're not proceeding to prosecute because there are evidentiary issues.

May 6 Hansard

Mr. Chomiak: I have said, Mr. Speaker, the credibility of photo radar, particularly in construction sites, is a problem now in the perception of the public and we have to solve that. If we have to change the legislation, we'll do it and we're going to sit down with the City who administered the program-
An Honourable Member: Put up the signs.
Mr. Chomiak: -who administered the program and ensure they put up the signs, Mr. Speaker, and we're going to try to get back to the original intent of photo radar which was safety and not for generating funds. That's where we're going to go.

May 7 Hansard

Mr. Chomiak:there's certain criteria that the City did not meet with respect to signage. Without the signage in place, we cannot enforce it in the courts.

We have to talk to the City. We intend to change the regulation as early as this weekend. We intend to have the photo radar back in construction sites under the three conditions: condition No. 1, workers present; condition No. 2, safety; condition No. 3, you have to meet the signage commitments that the City agreed to meet with respect to their agreement with the Province when they asked for photo radar to be put in place. I thought members opposite supported that.

Mr. Chomiak: As I indicated, the Crown, the independent Crown-I know the member wants to play Crown all the time and stick himself in the decision-making process-decided to do an appeal. An appeal was undertaken. Evidence came forward that signage was inappropriate. The Crown ethically said, we cannot, on the basis of all Manitobans, prosecute these cases. The City is responsible. The police are responsible for this. We can't prosecute because we don't have the legal ability to do so, and we'll stay charges."

For three straight days Chomiak peddled the falsehood that improper signage was responsible for having the photo radar tickets tossed out of court.

In doing so he managed to smear the City of Winnipeg, its employees, its police, and the contractors who do the road work and who are responsible for the signage.

Chomiak only took his foot out of his mouth to insert his other foot. He insulted all the drivers who got tickets in construction zones when there were no workers. He said he couldn't give refunds to anyone who pleaded guilty; that's the law.

The next day he said he might refund some fines. Or maybe all fines. Or maybe none of the fines.

He couldn't make up his mind although he had a lot to say.

But we have to take him at his word, whatever it is.

After all, if you can't believe the guy who eliminated hallway medicine in six months, who can you believe?

The Black Rod reading zone ends…now.

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