After having spent too many Tuesday evenings in the Parry Sound Council Chambers I decided to see what went on Tuesday mornings in the chambers when it hosted the Provincial Offenses Act (POA) Court. Outside of accompanying a friend of mine who was suing a former employer in Texas, I have not had a reason to step inside a courtroom. It was worth my time.
The POA Court is primarily concerned with non-criminal driving offences. That was obvious with the dozen or so cases that were handled this past Tuesday. There were a half dozen individuals who appeared in court that morning, the remainder of the cases involved lawyers representing their client’s interests. The offenses mostly ranged from speeding, to driving with a suspended license, to driving without insurance.
Here is what I learned:
- If you have a major POA infraction, it’s worth your time to attend court. I saw the Prosecutor meet with each of the defendants and briefly discuss their case with them and their options. He was very direct in suggesting that the individuals were advised to consult with a lawyer or paralegal to discuss their options. He also offered to reschedule their court appearance to allow them to get appropriate counsel.
- The Prosecutor is willing to discuss the current charges and, after reviewing a defendants history, offer an alternative that might be more attractive. A police officer, as I understand it, has relatively little flexibility in issuing a ticket for a specific violation, for example driving with a suspended license. The Prosecutor has the ability to adjust the charge to something less onerous as part of a plea agreement. For defendants this can reduce the amount of the fine, and/or reduce driving restrictions.
- The presiding Justice of the Peace and the Prosecutor were remarkably respectful in their dealings with the defendants. In one case a defendant charged with a speeding offence requested a trial in French. The Court acknowledged the request and made the appropriate arrangements. In Parry Sound a French court is only organized once or twice a year which can mean that there will be a significant delay.
- Don’t drive with a suspended license, expired plates, or without insurance. I discovered that the OPP have police cruisers equipped with license plate readers, front and rear. These license plate readers apparently continuously read the license plates of cars they pass and then pops up with a message if the vehicle has been flagged for one or more reasons. I imagine that this ranges from not having an up-to-date license renewal or insurance, or the associated driver has a suspended license. This means a driver does not need to commit an infraction to catch the attention of a police officer. In one case on Tuesday the appropriately equipped police cruiser was driving north on Highway 69 and passed a vehicle heading south. The license plate reader indicated that the vehicle belonged to someone with a suspended license. The officer turned the cruiser around and stopped the car, subsequently confirming that the driver’s license was suspended. This is the type of violation that can cost $1,000 and result in an additional six months of license suspension.
Overall I was very impressed with the way things were handled in POA Court and the respect that was offered the defendants. It seems the Court is less interested in punishing people than they are in providing the appropriate deterrent to breaking the law. In one case a young man who was caught for the third time driving without insurance was given a $2,000 fine, bringing his total outstanding fines for this and earlier offenses to a bit less than $10,000. They could have dinged him for up to $5,000. The Justice of the Peace and the Prosecutor didn’t seem to be out for blood, but realized that this was a serial offender who could not be let off lightly.
Bottom line: if you make a mistake, attend your assigned court date and take the opportunity to discuss the situation with the Prosecutor. If you don’t like what you hear you can always ask for a delay and then consult with a legal professional. People in the POA Court appear willing to adjust charges depending on circumstances for defendants who are appropriately contrite.
March on the Big Sound ( Parry Sound in colour)