No won­der the courts are bogged down

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 35 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­ — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

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.

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 Uturn, 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 Uturn ac­tu­ally fully de­scribed, lead­ing the jus­tice of the peace to ask him­self this im­por­tant ques­tion: “Should the types of turns or driv­ing ma­neu­vers 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.

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