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Russell Wangersky: No wonder the courts are bogged down

No U-turn
No U-turn

A novel is only something like 65,000 words long. A written court verdict by Ontario Court Justice of the Peace Richard Quon, filed last week? A whopping 87-page document totalling 21,485 words.

Russell Wangersky

So it must have been a momentous case, one that deserves long and careful review, including analysis of case law from California and Britain, right?

Well, no.

It’s the case of Michael E. Robinson vs. the City of Brampton, and it’s all about a traffic ticket for disobeying a U-turn sign, a ticket that carries a $110 fine. It also carries the penalty of two demerit points, the same as failing to turn off your high beams for approaching traffic.

Now, I recognize the fact that everyone deserves their day in court, whether they’re a wealthy businessman using a SLAPP suit to short-circuit public scrutiny of their business or an everyday Joe fighting a ticket for a traffic violation. (A SLAPP suit, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, by the way, is a lawsuit filed to intimidate or silence critics by diverting resources to pay for a court fight.)

The real question is whether or not they deserve everyone else’s day in court, too — because court time is finite, and civil cases can languish for years.

The Robinson vs. City of Brampton case was heard in May and centres around an interesting concept: Mr. Robinson says that, since he turned into a driveway on the left side of the road and then backed out again, he didn’t make a U-turn, but instead, a three-point turn. A U-turn, he argued, is a contiguous motion. In addition, since he drove into a private driveway to turn around, he had left the road surface and the Ontario Highway Traffic Act should not apply — because, for part of the turn, he wasn’t on the highway at all.

The facts were simple: “the defendant, who was by himself, had been driving a 2004 Dodge Caravan SUV motor vehicle on September 13, 2015, at 1:45 p.m., and proceeding northbound on Sunforest Drive, just north of the intersection of Sunforest Drive and Bovaird Drive in the City of Brampton,” the verdict says. That’s when “Officer Orgill of the Peel Regional Police,” stationed in a “low-profile police cruiser” looking for exactly that sort of U-turn scofflaw, saw the impugned turn.

The case was then complicated by the fact that nowhere in Ontario highway law is a U-turn actually fully described, leading the justice of the peace to ask himself this important question: “Should the types of turns or driving manoeuvres and the types of circumstances that would constitute a ‘U-turn’ be interpreted broadly so as to include a combination of a left turn, a three-point turn which comprise of stops and reversal maneuvers, and the use of a driveway?”

There’s more of this — much, much more of this.

By the time it was all said and done, the justice of the peace hearing the case had cited 11 different court cases, including the seminal 2014 U-turn vs. three-point turn court case of the Queen on the application of Alexis Alexander and the Parking Adjudicator and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which dealt with essentially the same argument in a succinct decision totalling 9,184 words. It includes, of course, penetrating questions of driving law, such as “One question that occurs is: if sign 614 is inapt to refer to 3-point turns as well as to paradigmatic U-turns, which sign ought to be used for that purpose?”

To sum up: the accused had his day in court. Witnesses were called, court time was used, and a justice of the peace spent months drafting a complete answer to the question of just what a U-turn is and isn’t.

Can a three-point turn be a U-turn?

The answer is “yes.” You don’t really need to bother with the other 21,484 words. (Fun fact: six of those words were the word “ergo.”)

Michael Robinson had to pay the ticket after all.

But we all paid the price.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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