A Quebec woman who says she made an error in good faith when paying for her parking in the wrong meter has successfully contested her ticket — a ruling at least one legal expert believes could set an important new precedent.
Louise Sauvé parked her car outside a Saint-Jérôme, Que., poutine restaurant in December 2014.
She fed coins into a parking meter on a couple of occasions and only after getting a ticket did she realize it was the wrong meter, a confusion apparently caused by snow.
She contested the $43 ticket in municipal court but lost.
A Quebec Superior Court justice overturned that ruling on appeal in 2016, prompting the city of Saint-Jérôme to launch its own appeal.
But the Quebec Court of Appeal confirmed the Superior Court ruling in a 27-page judgment handed down last week.
Winds are changing, prof says
According to Jennifer Quaid, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, parking infractions have been treated as absolute liability offences for about 30 years.
This means that all the Crown prosecutor has to show is that the defendant was parked in the wrong place — the defendant doesn't get a chance to explain what happened.
The Supreme Court defines absolute liability as "where it is not open to the accused to exculpate himself by showing that he was free of fault."
For most regulatory law in Canada, strict — not absolute — liability is the basic default. An accused can raise the defence of due diligence in a strict liability offence case.
The fact that the Court of Appeal decided to approve Sauvé's court challenge shows the winds are changing, in Quaid's view.
"I think it's part of a larger evolution that's been happening in the law for the past 30 years," Quaid said. "It's not that much of a surprise."
Many other municipalities will probably write their parking regulations differently as a result, she said. As well, the court's reasoning could be applied to other cases.
However, she said, being able to argue your case does not mean parking offenders get off scot-free.
"It's up to you to bring convincing evidence, it has to be on a balance of probabilities, that you made a mistake that a reasonable person would have made."
Sauvé 'very happy' with decision, lawyer says
Khalid M'Seffar was Sauvé's lawyer through to the Court of Appeal in the case.
He said his client is very happy with the court's decision.
"I admire this woman who decided to contest this ticket of $43 and the fees," he said.
He said that the municipality might have been afraid of losing money when it rejected Sauvé's contestation of her ticket.
"The government and the city saw a money-making machine perhaps falling apart," M'Seffar said.