Montreal to lose out on $7 million after 35,000 tickets tossed out due to court delays

The outcome of a case of a Montreal resident being fined for taking their recycling out to the curb too early has resulted in almost 35,000 tickets across the city being tossed out for taking too long to get before a judge.

In total, it means the city will lose out on $6.8 million from fines that never went to court — fines for municipal bylaw offences ranging from taking out garbage at the wrong time or not having a leash on your dog.

The landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2016 known as the Jordan decision set strict time limits for Canadian courts to hear a case without reasonable delay.

For provincial courts, it’s 18 months from the time of the charge being laid to the end of the trial, but for more serious cases heard in Superior Court, the time limit is 30 months.

In the case of the recycling fine in Montreal, the alleged violation was from 2016, but the city recently lost an appeal of a 2018 decision that threw out the case due unreasonable delays.

“For those types of tickets, when you get them, you’re deemed to have pled not guilty so the ticket follows through the court system,” said Avi Levy, a lawyer involved in the appeal and co-founder of ticket911.ca.

“I think it's unfortunate for the city to have lost out on the revenue. But I think it's a valid judgment and from a legal standpoint it should stand.”

Gonzalo Nunez, a city spokesperson, said the uncontested cases being thrown out amounts to approximately 4.5 per cent of yearly revenue collected from fines.

Since the Jordan ruling, several criminal cases have been thrown out for unreasonable delay, including the case of Sivaloganathan Thanabalasingham, who was charged in 2012 with second-degree murder in the killing of his 21-year-old wife, Anuja Baskaran.

A Quebec judged stayed the case in 2017 because the court had not yet set a trial date for the accused, well past the 30-month ceiling prescribed under the law.

That case went to the Supreme Court, however, it upheld the Appeal Court’s decision, agreeing that taking five years for a case to go to trial is a violation of a person’s Charter rights.

'I DON'T WANT TO LOSE MONEY'

Other Canadian cities have had to throw out municipal offence cases for taking too long to get to trial.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said Monday she is discussing the matter with Quebec to expedite the process. 

“It is a problem and we’ve been ringing the alarm to the Government of Quebec, both with Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette and Madame LeBel before, because right now it’s very heavy and we’re losing money with this,” she told reporters. 

“So, there’s a program that exists in other cities where we don’t have to bring every single case to the judge, and that’s what we’ve been asking the Government of Quebec because they’re the one that can change the law and put a program that will just make it lighter.

"That’s really what we’re asking for so we can move faster, it will be less heavy for judges, for the whole system... I don’t want to lose money.”

Denis Coderre, who is running for mayor of Montreal, suggested he would cut red tape at city hall so cases get to court faster.

“We need to have some facility where we don’t create another burden of decision making but that we have a fluid one,” he said.

'PROCESSING TIMES NOW BELOW LIMIT, CITY SAYS'

Since 2018, the City of Montreal reviewed to the process for handling such cases and they are now heard “well below” the threshold of 18 months, according to the city.

Nunez said default cases are now heard between 12 and 15 months following the issuance of a statement of offence. 

In the meantime, the City of Montreal can now go to the Supreme Court to fight the appeal court’s decision.

The city declined to say whether or not it will file an appeal.

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