Nfld. & Labrador

Man over meter: Court finds St. John's parking system at fault

A St. John's judge let a motorist off the hook for a parking ticket, saying the city's evidence of its phone-only parking meter system on Harbour Drive doesn't meet legal snuff.

Sean Callahan found not guilty as judge says more parking proof needed

These signs on Harbour Drive set out how to pay for the meterless parking spots. (CBC)

A motorist who admitted he didn't pay to park his RV on Harbour Drive in St. John's has been let off the hook for the fine, after a provincial court judge ruled the city didn't provide enough evidence to defend its PayByPhone metering system.

On Oct. 23, 2018, Sean Callahan left his motorhome in a parking spot that he thought was free, as it had only a pole without the actual parking meter attached. City guidelines state that if a meter is broken or missing, drivers can freely park in those spots.

When he came back 45 minutes later, he'd been fined.

Callahan had parked in one of 136 spots on Harbour Drive that the city switched over in June 2018 to the PayByPhone system. The meterless poles have remained, but drivers now must pay via a smartphone app or online, or by calling a toll-free number.

Callahan, who declined CBC's request for an interview, didn't pay the ticket and instead took it to court, where the matter went to trial.

After the proceedings, Judge David Orr found Callahan not guilty. 

Lack of legislation

In his ruling, Orr found flaws in the way the city presented the parking information from the PayByPhone system in court.

At the trial, a parking enforcement officer testified that when he saw Callahan's RV, he checked an online database that showed no trace of the licence plate being paid for.

That list was printed out and given to Orr as evidence, but Orr wouldn't accept it.

"There is no proof authenticating the parking record," Orr wrote in his decision. Beyond presenting the list, he added, the enforcement officer didn't testify "how the electronic system worked or on what system the records were stored or their accuracy."

Orr noted there was no current legislation that sets out how such PayByPhone evidence or records can be admitted and interpreted in court, and that if such technology is being use to justify a guilty verdict, that technology needs to have a "level of confidence" the list didn't meet.

Admission of digital evidence is governed by the Canada Evidence Act, and certain conditions must be met to show its authenticity.

Vehicles are parked along Harbour Drive in downtown St. John's. (CBC)

A complicated system?

Orr noted in his decision that while the city's PayByPhone signs lay out clearly how to use the system, the fact the system requires someone to use an app or access the internet "may make the process either inaccessible or too difficult to use for some people."

"I think it's great for someone like me who has a phone. Really easy to pay," said Cheryl Penney, who was with her dad as they parked on Harbour Drive this week

"For someone like him, who doesn't have a phone, I don't think it's a great idea. I think it's kind of excluding."

The City of St. John's declined an interview with CBC, but in an email said it won't appeal Orr's ruling, and is "now aware of the additional evidence necessary for court purposes."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Corrections

  • A previous version of this article stated that the judge found flaws in the metering system. That is incorrect. The judge ruled the evidence submitted at trial from the metering system was not adequate.
    Jun 13, 2019 2:45 PM NT

With files from Cecil Haire

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