City of Ottawa employees should have to pay for their driving tickets: mayor

·3 min read
A red light traffic camera on Lyon Street in Ottawa. The city issued a total of 225,512 automated tickets for speeding near schools and running red lights from the beginning of 2019 to Sept. 27, 2021.  (CBC - image credit)
A red light traffic camera on Lyon Street in Ottawa. The city issued a total of 225,512 automated tickets for speeding near schools and running red lights from the beginning of 2019 to Sept. 27, 2021. (CBC - image credit)

Ottawa's mayor says municipal employees who get tickets for driving through a red light or speeding while using city-owned vehicles should be on the hook for the cost of tickets — which they are currently not responsible for.

"Employees, if we can identify them as being in that vehicle at that time, should be paying the fine, not the taxpayers," Mayor Jim Watson said.

"This is basic accountability for employees," echoed Riley Brockington, the councillor for River ward and an advocate for expanded areas for photo radar.

Watson and Brockington's comments came in the wake of recent access-to-information requests made to the city by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

According to the findings, the city issued a total of over 200,000 automated tickets for speeding near schools and running red lights from the beginning of 2019 to Sept. 27, 2021. The automated speed enforcement program, which captures photos of vehicles driving too quickly in community safety zones near schools, only began in July 2020.

Of that total, 989 were issued to city-owned vehicles, though the vast majority of those were taken up by emergency vehicles such as paramedics, police and fire, which are exempt from fines.

Below is a department-by-department breakdown of the tickets issued to city vehicles, which the federation says it was provided by the city.

Of the 989 tickets, 622 were red-light camera tickets and 287 were automated speeding tickets, while the remaining 80 were incurred by transit services for which the city did not have a breakdown.

Jay Goldberg, the Canadian Taxpayer Federation's Ontario director, said not making employees pay fines is unfair and creates a two-tiered system.

"You can't just have a group of individuals working for any kind of city department who don't have to obey laws and know that if they run a red light, they don't have to pay a fine," Goldberg said.

"If you're going to have photo radar, you [have] to go all the way."

'It's taxpayers' money,' mayor says

In an emailed statement to CBC News, city solicitor David White said charges laid under the red-light camera and photo radar provisions of the Highway Traffic Act are owner liability offences, "with the result being that the City of Ottawa, as owner of the vehicle, is legally responsible for payment of the fine.

"As a result, the city does not require drivers to pay those fines, which is also in keeping with the provisions of the Employment Standards Act prohibitions on deductions from wages."

At an unrelated event on Tuesday, Watson said he would have staff look into ways to possibly recoup costs.

"At the end of the day, it's taxpayers' money and the individuals are paid for by the taxpayer," Watson added. "They should be obeying the law, and if they don't, they should be penalized."

New 'fleet safety program' launched

CUPE Local 503, the municipality's largest union, declined to comment.

White said the city addresses red-light camera or photo speeding violations as disciplinary matters, "in accordance with the relevant collective agreement or employment contract and its discipline policy."

Under a "fleet safety program" launched earlier this month, drivers of City of Ottawa vehicles are given an authority to operate (ATO), which uses a similar system to provincial demerit points "based on unsafe action, conditions or preventable collisions, including offences resulting from speeding and failure to obey a stop sign," White said.

That could involve measures "up to and including" the suspension of an ATO, he added.

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