The Ecology Action Centre is questioning the fairness of proposed changes to the Nova Scotia Motor Vehicle Act that will increase some fines for collisions involving pedestrians.

Under the proposed amendments pedestrians could be slapped with a $697.50 fine if they don't press crosswalk buttons or jaywalk. Drivers who don't follow the rules also face the same fine.

But hitting pedestrians that break the law with such a hefty penalty is disproportionate and counterproductive, according to Tristan Cleveland, an urban planner and community activist with the Ecology Action Centre.

He told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon the move comes as the province is trying to encourage residents to get out and walk more as part of a healthier lifestyle.

"At that time we would turn around and slap every single tiny pedestrian infraction with the same crippling fine is just counterproductive," he said.

Cleveland predicts the higher fines will only make it more difficult for police and lead to less enforcement.

"How are the police supposed to give out fines for every single tiny infraction, when it will hit them with the highest possible fine," he said.

He said all the increased fines will do is further punish pedestrians who have already suffered.

Targets the poor

"When you do look at the times when they do give it out, pedestrians often get fined after being hit by a car," he said. "Do we really want to give someone a $700 fine who is in the hospital with a broken leg."

Cleveland also suggests the fines will target the poor.

"Who are the people who cannot afford to own a car? Probably the same people who cannot afford a $700 fine," he said.

When compared to other fines in Canada for jaywalking, Cleveland says what's being proposed in Nova Scotia is disproportionate.

"When you look at other provinces in Canada, the biggest fine for jaywalking elsewhere is $50," he said, adding he doubts Nova Scotia's proposed penalty will increase safety.

Cleveland said he doesn't dispute some changes may be needed to the Motor Vehicle Act.

"I applaud them for looking at the rules again, but I think that the government needs to slow down, don't pass this bill today or tomorrow," he said. "We need a chance to talk this through as Nova Scotians."

Deterrent, not punishment

But the province's transportation minister says this isn't about the money.

"We want to save lives," said Geoff MacLellan. He said he has constantly heard complaints about pedestrians breaking the rules since taking on the transportation portfolio. 

"It's obviously a significant problem in Metro, across the province altogether. It's a shared responsibility."

MacLellan describes it as a "major" issue and says even the debate over fines is helping raise awareness.

"It's not about punishment, that's the important thing to remember for us, it's about deterring these actions," he said.

He says the fines are being increased in an effort to level the playing field. 

"This isn't about pedestrians, it's about drivers, it's about cyclists, it's about all of us and certainly we want to bring them in line so there's more cohesian."