Thousands of Winnipeggers have been wrongly ticketed by the city's winter parking ban since 2011 — and no one's getting any refunds.

A recent court challenge made the City of Winnipeg realize it has been breaking the rules of the provincial Highway Traffic Act.

Under the Know Your Zone program, introduced in 2011, parking bans were in place for 12 hours on residential streets, either from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., depending on when plows were scheduled to go through a neighbourhood.

It was up to the public to know what zone they were in and when it would be plowed. The city advertised on TV and radio and posted the zones online, but there were no signs on any streets.

The Highway Traffic Act, however, only permits tickets without proper signage to be issued from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

"This recently came to the  city's attention and officials are working to correct this by collaborating with the province on a resolution," the city stated in a news release on Thursday.

From now on, only vehicles parked from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on a street scheduled for plowing will face a $150 ticket and possible towing.

The city said it will no longer pursue collection on outstanding tickets from previous winter parking bans. However, those who paid tickets that would now be deemed illegal are out of luck.

"If payment has been made, refunds are not possible because legally, the matter is considered settled," the city states on its website.

Class action lawsuit

Todd Dube, founder of the traffic-ticket-fighting group Wise Up Winnipeg, said he will launch a class action suit against the city if it doesn't offer refunds to wrongly ticketed drivers.

parking tickets winter

The city just recently realized it has been breaking the rules. The Highway Traffic Act only permits tickets without proper signage to be issued from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

He estimates the city owes about $10 million.

Between 2012 and 2014, the city issued nearly 25,000 residential parking ban tickets during declared snow clearing operations, according to data from the Winnipeg Parking Authority.

Of those, 75 per cent were issued between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. — an enforcement time-frame the city now says was not permitted.

The whole issue came to light when Dube challenged a ticket he received last February during a snow-clearing parking ban.

Dube was originally convicted but appealed the ruling on the basis of the Highway Traffic Act. The Crown eventually entered a stay of proceedings in the case, essentially exonerating Dube.

He believes the reason was "to avoid having the argument heard" and letting the city's "illegal" ticketing become public knowledge.

"They needed this to be as quiet as possible and for it to go away," he said. "I shouldn't have been convicted in traffic court [in the first place]. I just spent $10,000 to have the law actually heard."

In addition to the ticket refunds, Dube wants the city to pay him for those court costs.

Confusing system

Since Know Your Zone was introduced, there has been confusion and criticism every year.

The city's alphabetical zoning system splits Winnipeg into letter categories but many people had trouble trying to determine their zone.

On top of that, the city divides neighbourhoods into entirely different zones and uses a numeric system for its mosquito fogging and cankerworm control programs, leaving people trying to remember where they belong.

And it wasn't just drivers who were confused about the ban. Even the people responsible for clearing the streets weren't clear on how it worked.

In 2012, several streets were plowed on the wrong day, leaving residents to find their cars after they were towed to nearby streets. City officials had to have a chat with the snow-clearing crews about respecting the zones and only operating in the designated times.

Regardless of the changes announced Thursday, residents will still need to know their zones and move their vehicles, the city said.

The city can only ticket from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. but, as often as possible, tow trucks will be brought in to move vehicles to nearby streets, out of the way of snow-clearing operations, the city said.

If vehicles are in the way, streets won't be plowed as well as they could be, leaving ruts on the roads.

"We need your co-operation so that we can deliver the high-quality snow-clearing service that we know Winnipeggers expect," said Michael Jack, the city's chief operating officer.

"We don't want to issue any tickets. We want people to move their cars at the specified time so that our streets can be cleared quickly and efficiently."

Jack said the city would not pursue payment on any unpaid tickets.

"The way we are approaching this, anything that is outstanding right now, we have instructed the parking authority to cease any collections procedures with respect to any of those," he said.

Jack admitted the city's ticketing during the parking ban did not conform to the province's Highway Traffic Act.

"At any level of government there will be technicalities revealed, quite often through the court process, and individual court processes, like those of Mr. Dube, and this is one of those instances," Jack said.

When asked how the city would respond if Dube filed a class action suit, Jack said "we have a legal department that would happy to meet him [in court] there, I guess."

But South Winnipeg-St. Norbert councillor Janice Lukes told the media to "stay tuned."

"That sounds like what the legal position is. I'm not confident we know that for sure, so we are going to have to wait and see." Lukes said.

Lukes said city chief administrative officer Doug McNeil will conduct a review of what happened and make further recommendations.