Ottawa photo radar debate brings battle of the grassroots campaigns

Community groups on both sides of the photo radar debate are readying to lobby for support at a city committee in May.

City council sent debate to May 4 committee meeting after Riley Brockington motion

This is an example of a photo radar system from Edmonton, one of the Canadian cities where it's in use.

Grassroots organizations in Ottawa are readying their petitions and lawn signs as they try to sway public and city council opinion on bringing photo radar to the capital.

Coun. Riley Brockington brought a motion to last Wednesday's city council meeting to request permission from the province to bring in photo radar as a way to cut down on speeding and make city roads safer.

Council decided to push the issue to its May 4 transportation committee to allow for public consultations and more time to study it.

In the meantime, groups such as No Photo Radar in Ontario are getting ready to make their pitch.

Founder Chris Klimek said Monday he's hard at work setting up social media and lawn sign campaigns in Ottawa because the vote is coming soon.

"It doesn't stop truly dangerous drivers or drunk drivers. Those people who actually do 30 or 40 [km/h] over [the speed limit], who may actually be the ones more prone to having a collision or an accident, they will never be stopped by photo radar," he said.

"In essence, photo radar is simply preying on the safest 85-per-cent of drivers who are doing small infractions, 10 to 15 over [the limit]."

Michael Powell, a member of Safe Streets Ottawa, says photo radar discourages people from speeding and makes streets safer because of it. (CBC)

Photo radar supported by petition

The group Safe Streets Ottawa brought a petition forward with more than 550 signatures to Wednesday's council meeting arguing the opposite. They said Monday they'll continue to make their case that photo radar is an effective tool to enforce the law.

"We see the worst of the worst ticketed and speed limits enforced and life goes on," said Michael Powell, one of the group's members.

"For those of us that adhere to speed limits going about our daily lives, photo radar only is a benefit. For those that don't, there is a greater risk so it encourages them to slow down."

Toronto and Hamilton are among the other communities to consider asking the provincial government for permission to set up photo radar in their communities.

This comes after Premier Kathleen Wynne opened up the possibility, saying the government would decide on a case-by-case basis after getting such requests.

Gatineau results could help Ottawa

Photo radar opponents take Edmonton as an example of how many tickets are issued that way.

In 2014, the city gave out around 620,000 speeding tickets through photo radar — its population is 812,000 —  while that same year Ottawa and its population of 883,000 had almost 43,000 "moving violations," which include speeding and ignoring traffic lights.

For Ottawa, decision makers can look at a nearby case study across the river in Gatineau, which started rolling out 20 portable photo radar units across the city in October.

Last week Radio-Canada received a preliminary report on the first five months of Gatineau's photo radar program. It's resulted in more than 7,200 tickets totaling $721,211 in fines.

Gatineau police say they've seen drivers slow down and be more careful when they know cameras are around.

Chris Klimek, who's also the founder of Stop 100, advocates for higher speed limits in Ontario, but he doesn't agree with more photo radar in Ottawa.

Concern over radar revenue

However, Klimek said people in Winnipeg and Edmonton have raised concerns over big increases in the number of photo radar tickets issued and the revenue raised from one year to the next.

He cautions that Gatineau could see the same dynamic.

"Once the authorities realize there's so much profit to be made and they can be made to look good in the eyes of some of their constituents ... they realize it's a dual sort of benefit in their eyes: we can make a lot of money and we can say we have safe streets," he said.

Powell argued photo radar doesn't lead to invoices being mailed to everyone across the city, only those who break the law.

"Having a police officer sit in his or her car with a radar gun is an expensive tool for the police to use. Photo radar is a more effective one that catches more people along the way and I think that's why law enforcement officials are looking for it," he said.

"It's more effective for them to do their job and they can see what happens in Gatineau, Saskatchewan and Alberta and how it's effective for them."

With files from Amanda Pfeffer and Nathalie Tremblay