Edmonton traffic prosecutors tightening reins for photo radar ticket reductions

Edmonton Crown representatives are no longer granting reductions during first meetings for photo-radar tickets. Those who want one must appear in traffic court.

People who want reductions now must go to trial, which is causing a court backlog, sources say

Edmonton Crown representatives are no longer granting reductions for photo radar tickets. Those who want it, must appear in traffic court. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

Traffic prosecutors in Edmonton are tightening the reins on granting reductions for photo-radar tickets — a practice that sources say has been common in the city's Crown office for years. 

Two anonymous sources have confirmed with CBC News that as of Oct. 21. reductions for photo-radar tickets will no longer be granted, unless there were extenuating circumstances. People who want reductions must now appear in court and undergo trials. 

Before this new enforcement, a reduced penalty was typically granted through a first meeting with a traffic prosecutor, when an individual has pleaded guilty for a ticket and is seeking an early resolution. 

Alberta Justice denies that automatically giving drivers a break on photo radar tickets was an accepted practice.

Fines for speeding in Edmonton range from $78 to $2,000, depending on how much the driver has breached the speed limit. 

So far this year, the City of Edmonton has issued 306,386 photo radar tickets as of September. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Andrew Ashton, the CEO of Rooco, said for years it has been common practice for prosecutors to grant reductions for photo-radar tickets during first meetings, though they weren't granted in every instance.

Ashton said the reductions ranged from none to 30 per cent. If a driver successfully argued they were driving slower than what was clocked on the ticket, they could pay about 25 per cent less.

The tickets are evaluated on a case-by-case basis by prosecutors, he said.   

Change in common practice 

Rooco is a company that allows people to pay traffic tickets online and get a 10 to 15 per cent discount upfront. The company fronts the client's ticket reduction first, and then asks for a reduction with a traffic prosecutor through representing them later. Rooco then pockets the difference. 

Ashton said his company has gotten thousands of photo-radar tickets reduced for clients over the last 16 months, without having to set a trial. But now that will change. 

"I was quite surprised, I couldn't believe they were going to initiate this sort of policy change, especially informally, just through verbal confirmation," Ashton said. 

Two anonymous sources also confirmed that staff from Edmonton's Crown office are telling people the change is in effect, though no official paper notice has been sent out. 

'Not a change' in accepted in practice 

"This is not a change in Alberta Crown Prosecution Service accepted practice," Jonah Mozeson, press secretary to Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, said in an emailed statement.

"Individuals are not entitled to automatic reductions," he wrote. "Individuals with photo radar, or any other traffic ticket, may attend court and request to speak with a traffic prosecutor. If the individual has a valid reason for requesting a reduction, the traffic prosecutor will consider it."

The email also referred to the Traffic Prosecutions Guidelines, which state, "Prosecutors should not consider amending or reducing traffic tickets only to avoid a trial on a charge where there is a reasonable likelihood of a conviction and it is in the public interest to proceed." 

Rooco operates out of Edmonton and Calgary. Ashton said he was only aware of the change in Edmonton and not Calgary. Another source also confirmed that information. 

Trials set into next year 

Companies that help people fight tickets say this has already caused a backlog in the traffic court system. 

Ashton said his company processes an average of 1,100 tickets per month, and as of last Friday it has to set trial dates for all of those tickets. Ashton said he now anticipates having to do that every month. 

"It really ... has the potential to have catastrophic effects on the court system, it's just simply so much volume," Ashton said. 

"We're hearing that trials are already being set into May of 2020," he said. "Now with the amount of trials that are going to have to be set, we're going to be into 2021 before you know it." 

Mozeson said the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service "is not aware of a court backlog in specific relation to photo radar." 

So far this year, the City of Edmonton has issued 306,386 photo radar tickets as of September. In 2018, there were 378,619 photo radar tickets issued in Edmonton.