York Regional Police officers have issued hundreds of tickets for expired vehicle permits amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Ontario, despite the provincial government extending the period for which existing documents are valid.
The force told CBC Toronto that the tickets are given at the discretion of individual officers, and that drivers still have the option to fight them in court.
Nicholas Vereshack is now faced with that very decision. While he was driving on Sunday, Vereshack was stopped by a York officer.
"He told me he was pulling me over for a stop sign violation and came back and gave me two tickets," the 24-year-old says. "One for the stop sign and one for my licence plate sticker, which had expired in June."
Vereshack says he knew the government had extended the moratorium on issuing tickets for expired stickers but was initially too shaken to say anything. He took the tickets and continued on his way.
As recently as July 29, Service Ontario had reminded drivers of the government's policy through its Twitter account, saying simply, "Your licence plate sticker is still valid."
And on its website, the provincial government says that the move is part of an effort to limit the number of in-person visits to Service Ontario locations during the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation also confirmed the policy remains in place in an email to CBC Toronto on Tuesday. Senior issues adviser Lee Alderson wrote that the validation period has been extended to driver's licences, licence plate validations, Ontario photo cards and commercial vehicle operator registration certificates.
"Documents that expired on or after March 1, 2020 will remain valid and legal past the expiry, until further notice," Alderson said.
Vereshack says later that same day, he found the officer who ticketed him still parked in the same location. So he decided to stop and speak with him about the ticket, and even showed the officer the province's website.
"He basically said that he hasn't been told about any extension and people still should be able to do it online. And I'm going to have to take up the ticket with the courts," Vereshack says.
In an email, York police spokesperson Andy Pattenden confirmed that Vereshack was issued the two tickets and said that officers on the force have been directed to follow Ministry of Transportation guidelines.
"Ultimately, it is up to the officers' discretion if they issue a ticket for a permit that is not currently validated," Pattenden added.
Unofficial numbers provided by the police service show that since March 1, its officers have issued about 900 tickets to drivers for "permits that have not been validated." Some 2,600 tickets were issued by York officers for the same offence last year.
"As always, if a driver wishes to dispute a ticket, they can do so through the provincial courts as indicated on the back of the ticket." Pattenden said.
But that gives little comfort to Vereshack.
"A lot of people have lost their jobs, renewing your licence plate sticker isn't at the top of everyone's mind," he said.
"So it just didn't really feel right with me that even though Service Ontario themselves and the government of Ontario stated that the licence plate was still valid, he just gave me the ticket anyway."