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Andy Prest: Caught on camera has some wiggle room

The rules of 'Yeah, that guy is definitely guilty,' are a-changin'
Red light at intersection
A recent court case raised interesting questions about just how much evidence is enough evidence for a red-light traffic fine caught on camera.

There’s great news out of North Vancouver for any dogs who have been discovered standing beside a pile of demolished hamburgers, their fur covered in mustard.

Or little kids holding hockey sticks in the living room whose parents walk in to see a smashed vase on the floor beside one of those hard orange street hockey balls. 

For as long as I can remember, the laws of the land seemingly would have been unequivocal in cases such as this. That dog and that wrecked BBQ platter, that kid and those flowers sitting in a damp puddle on the carpet – that was more than enough evidence to come up with a guilty verdict in those cases, and offer a suitable punishment of obedience training or shock collar or whatever. And the dog could be punished too. 

But it seems like the rules of “Yeah, that guy is definitely guilty,” are changing. At least, that’s how I’m reading a story written by Brent Richter and published in the North Shore News

It’s a story about, of all things, photo radar. 

And I must admit that I never knew, or had forgotten, that photo radar tickets were a thing here in British Columbia. 

But I do know all about photo radar, thanks to my upbringing in small-town Alberta. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, my little hometown of 13,000 people had its own police force. And that police force brought in photo radar to keep all the street racers at bay. Of course, it was small-town Alberta, so there wasn’t actually much need for photo radar. Everyone drove their cars like they were tractors, and, to be fair, many of the cars were tractors.   

But that didn’t stop the cops from planting photo radar on the city’s one big street and handing out tickets to people driving 56 kilometres per hour in the 50 km/h zone in front of the Bonanza. And the photo radar wasn’t automated, it was a woman – Barb, maybe? – sitting in a van parked beside the road. 

That’s not how it works in North Vancouver now, though. There’s one photo radar station integrated with the red light camera at Capilano Road and Marine Drive. And it’s a pretty basic concept – if you’re driving well over the speed limit, it snaps a photo of your licence plate and you get a fine, but no penalty points. Seems pretty straightforward, if maybe a little overbearing. 

But a recent case raised interesting questions about just how much evidence is enough evidence for a fine like this. A driver successfully challenged his fine after seeing the image captured by the camera. 

Was there a question about the car? Nope, not really – he owned that exact make and model. What about the licence plate? Was there a chance that the numbers and letters were different? Nope – it was an exact match.

So what was it? How did he get it thrown out? 

The driver argued that the British Columbia flag in the image – something that would confirm it as a British Columbia licence plate – was “too indistinct,” and the judge agreed, tossing the ticket.

And I gotta say – I love the audacity of it. Yeah, I have a car just like that. Yeah, I have that exact combination of letters and numbers on my licence plate. But are you sure that’s my car? Are you sure you’re sure?

It reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Bart makes a brief appearance on Krusty the Clown’s TV show, trips on his way onto the stage, and every backdrop, prop, light and speaker in the studio crashes to the floor. And what does Bart say?

“I didn’t do it.”

What does this mean for that dog covered in mustard? “Well, those burgers clearly had ketchup on them as well, but is there ketchup in my fur?” 

Or that kid standing beside the puddle of sloppy flowers? “Mom, are you sure that’s your vase? I seem to recall your vase being in one piece, but this one has 457 pieces.”

Hey, it’s worth a shot. And if Mom doesn’t buy it, it seems like you can take it to court now and get a judge to overturn your punishment and get that shock collar off of you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go convince my wife that it wasn’t me who left beard trimmings all over the bathroom sink. Where’s the proof?!

Andy Prest is the sports and features editor of the North Shore News. His lifestyle/humour column runs biweekly.

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