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Cops can fix small errors on tickets after issuing them, according to Ontario court

An officer who fixes minor mistakes after issuing a ticket does not affect its validity, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled Thursday.

Police officers fixing minor mistakes after issuing a ticket does not affect its validity

An officer who fixes minor mistakes after issuing a ticket does not affect its validity, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday.

The ruling restores driving convictions against two motorists and clarifies inconsistent lower court rulings.

"An important goal of the Provincial Offences Act is that cases be decided on their merits," the Appeal Court found. "A corollary to that goal is that a minor defect in a proceeding, not prejudicing a defendant, should not be given effect to."

In the first case, an officer ticketed a man for making an unsafe turn. The ticket, however, did not name the municipality where the offence occurred, so the officer filled in "City of Vaughan" before filing it with the court.

In the second case, police charged another man with driving at 149 kilometres an hour in a 100 zone. The officer later realized the wrong year was filled in and corrected the mistake.

Both motorists requested a trial but neither showed up on their respective hearing dates and a justice of the peace convicted them on the basis they had not disputed the charges. They appealed, arguing the law does not allow officers to change a ticket after it's been issued.

In February 2015, Ontario court Judge James Chaffe quashed the convictions even though he found both motorists knew exactly what charges they faced. Nevertheless, Chaffe ruled, the officers had changed the certificates of offence "without authority."

The municipality, York Region, turned to the province's top court, which agreed to hear the case to settle numerous conflicting rulings on an issue of widespread importance.

The drivers argued it would be unfair to have the tickets they were given say one thing while the courts have something different. They also argued the act requires a certificate of offence to be "complete and regular on its face" before a judge or justice can convict an accused in absentia.

In setting aside Chaffe's decision, the Appeal Court found that the Provincial Offences Act does not authorize an officer to make after-the-fact changes — but neither does it ban the practice. That doesn't mean officers have the unfettered right to make changes, the court said, but correcting minor mistakes — a misspelling of a name for example — is perfectly understandable given the thousands of tickets issued every year.

Judges made aware of such changes — they do not normally see the ticket the driver was issued — would have to decide if the accused was misled or prejudiced, and could only convict if the answer was no.

"Whether an amendment will invalidate a conviction depends on the nature of the amendment and its impact on a defendant," the Appeal Court said.

"In the appeals before us, each amendment did no more than correct a minor clerical error on the certificate; neither [defendant] was misled or prejudiced by the amendment; and thus the validity of the proceeding against each of them was preserved."

Allowing minor changes to fix errors aligns with the context and purpose of the law, the court said, which is to allow courts to decide cases on their merits rather than see large numbers of them thrown out on technical grounds where the accused is not harmed.

Tossing cases because of small mistakes that cause no prejudice would not promote the fair administration of justice, the Appeal Court said.

"Defendants are protected if they were misled or prejudiced by a change to information on the certificate of offence."