Ottawa's transportation chair wants another look at city policy covering employees' photo radar tickets

The chair of the city of Ottawa’s transportation committee says he wants to find out why city employees who are caught on red light or photo radar cameras don’t have to pay their traffic tickets.

Coun. Tim Tierney told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron that he wants city staff to look into the policy, and see why other cities' policies differ.

“If other municipalities are able to do it, why are we not able to do it?” Tierney asked.

CTV News Ottawa confirmed last week that 989 city-owned vehicles were issued traffic tickets between January 2019 and August 2021, following an access to information request released by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation (CTF). While the bulk of the tickets were for emergency vehicles, which are exempt under the Highway Traffic Act, at least 159 other vehicles were ticketed, accruing approximately $37,000 in fines, according to documents.

City solicitor David White told CTV News Ottawa in a statement that the city, as owner of the vehicles, is liable for fines, not the employees driving the cars, though they are subject to other disciplinary measures. The CTF said the policy creates a double standard between city employees and other residents.

The city of Edmonton requires employees to pay their own tickets and the city of Toronto pays up front but recovers costs from employees later. Tierney said staff should look into Toronto’s model.

“This all comes down to legal interpretation... (Our lawyer) seems to think that there are employment factors that say if it’s a city vehicle, we have to pay it, we have to put our own discipline system with an internal demerit system in place, but it still doesn’t meet the sniff test to me,” he said. “I want to know, from the horse’s mouth in Toronto, how they are able to do this and can we do it here?”

White told CTV News Ottawa that the city “addresses red light camera and/or photo radar speeding violations as disciplinary matters, in accordance with the relevant collective agreement or employment contract and its Discipline Policy,” based on the seriousness of the misconduct and other factors such as employment history, including prior discipline. The city introduced a new fleet safety program in April that includes a system “similar to provincial demerit points” based on unsafe driving and Highway Traffic Act offences.

Tierney will be introducing an inquiry at Wednesday’s transportation committee meeting. It asks that staff contact the city of Toronto to understand how they recoup fines from employees and their level of success, look into any legislation and collective agreements surrounding the discipline process, review the city’s current disciplinary approach, and offer recommendations to improve the system.

I'm asking staff to explain why other cities are able to do this and how we can improve our process as well. pic.twitter.com/FYEs15UG5k

— Tim Tierney (@TimTierney) May 2, 2022

“It’s certainly not (about) revenue,” said Tierney. “When you get unions involved and all the extra costs involved in defending positions, it probably would cost the taxpayer more on a small number of tickets. This is truly a ‘principle’ issue.”

Tierney also said he’s been told there is no mechanism for employees who wish to pay their own tickets to pay them.

“If we find out the city of Toronto has a different interpretation of the employment laws than we do and has a mechanism to be able to do things… how are they able to get their employees to pay? I think that’s, from the feelings of my colleagues on transportation committee, we would like to see, at least, the answers and if we could actually put that in place here,” he said.

The city of Ottawa launched the automated speed enforcement program in July 2020. Between July 2020 and July 2021, 101,778 tickets were issued for speeding at eight locations across Ottawa, netting $5.4 million in revenue.

Money generated by the photo radar cameras supports Ottawa's road safety action plan.

The transportation committee meets Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.