It’s ‘back to the future’ with bill on photo radar

By MPP Toby Barrett

Many will remember when Bob Rae introduced photo radar on Ontario’s 400-series highways in 1994 by Bob Rae’s NDP government.

Within three months of the 1994 project launch, the program was churning out close to 13,000 tickets a month, leading the forefathers of today’s Ontario Liberals to criticize the NDP photo radar pilot as “nothing but a cash cow”. As ticket fines surpassed $2 million in November of that first year, and the OPP confirming some people were getting dinged for driving less than 10 kilometers an hour over the speed limit, many in Ontario were furious.

The program met its end after 11 months, when Mike Harris – who called it a cash-grab and promised to scrap the program – was elected premier in 1995.

And today, proposed legislation Bill 65- the Safer School Zones Act – will allow municipalities to implement by-laws permitting photo radar in community safety zones. According to the Highway Traffic Act, a “community safety zone” is any zone where in a municipal council’s opinion, public safety is of special concern on that part of the highway – a definition you could drive a truck through.

By way of example, following Bill 65’s introduction, Hamilton Councillor Sam Merulla announced plans to seek community safety zone designation for the Red Hill Creek Expressway and the Lincoln Alexander Expressway, given the open-ended definition as a community safety zone. The idea of neighbouring municipalities having competing and different definitions of the term “community safety zone” could also be problematic.

As Official Opposition, we always have – and continue to support-  initiatives that help to make our school zones safer. We regret the Minister of Transportation took the school safety issue to open the door to photo radar on municipal expressways, parkways and highways.

By allowing the use of photo radar in a community safety zone without indicating any definition for what a community safety zone is, the proposed legislation is carte blanche for photo radar and its associated fines to be implemented virtually anywhere – or everywhere – within a municipality’s jurisdiction.

Instead of working to create safer school zones, the minister has introduced legislation that could mean a reduced police presence near schools. Substituting cameras for officers does nothing to catch other dangerous driving behaviours, such as distracted driving, drunk driving, weaving or tailgating. We also have questions as to whether school zone radar would be in effect solely when children arrive and depart school or if it will be a 24/7 photo fine revenue generator.

As former Premier McGuinty stated in July 2007, “More needs to be done to crack down on speeding, but photo radar is not the answer.”

And back in November 1993, former McGuinty Finance Minister Greg Sorbara called photo radar: “the most arbitrary, objectionable, obnoxious, repulsive piece of legislation, one of the most repulsive pieces of legislation that the government has brought in, because it just completely abrogates our very long-standing tradition in this province of being innocent until you’re proven guilty in a court of law.”

I’m with Sobara and McGuinty and our Transportation Critic MPP Michael Harris, let’s not bring back photo radar – except perhaps only in bona fide community safety zones – and let’s continue to do everything we can to ensure kid’s safety.

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