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Andrew Clark happened across an illegally parked parking enforcement vehicle at the end of a one-way street’s left turning lane in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood.Andrew Clark/The Globe and Mail

There is nothing unusual about a car parked illegally in Toronto, or in any Canadian city. They are as common as raccoons the night before garbage day. Drivers are willing to obey parking rules right until the moment those rules inconvenience them, then all bets are off. I’d estimate that for every three legally parked cars there is one illegally parked car.

The most ironic of all illegally parked cars is the illegally parked parking enforcement vehicle. This is the double-parked cherry on top of the illegal parking sundae. I chanced upon one last week. It was parked at the end of a one-way street’s left turning lane. No hazard lights were on. No driver was in sight. It was just a parking enforcement vehicle blocking a left-turn lane asking everyone else to wait. The person whose job it is to penalize drivers for bad parking was themselves responsible for bad parking.

The encounter left me overcome by a strange wave of excitement, anger and envy.

I was excited because the fact a parking enforcement vehicle was parked illegally meant that there was a parking enforcement officer out there somewhere slapping down tickets. Parking scofflaws, who normally get away with their transgressions, were finally receiving their just desserts. I’d estimate that for every 1,000 illegally parked cars maybe one gets a ticket. That’s not the fault of the parking enforcement officers who work tirelessly. It’s a consequence of the enormous amount of illegal parking. Handing out parking tickets is like swatting mosquitoes. No matter how many you squash, there are countless other offenders taking their place.

Besides, it’s fun to see someone else get a ticket. It’s instant drama. In the 1990s, I would meet friends for drinks on the patios of Front Street East in Toronto at 4 p.m. (when legal parking expired) so we could watch the tow-truck vultures sweep in and carry off wayward automobiles. It was street theatre of the highest order, a kind of unhappy happy hour.

Perhaps the officer driving this illegally parked vehicle was off meting out justice, but I was angry at the giddy disregard the parking enforcement officer was displaying toward the rules that govern the actions of we poor plebes.

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Roman satirist Juvenal wrote in the first century. “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

More than two millennia later the answer appears to remain “no one,” especially if the “guards themselves” happen to be doling out parking tickets in Toronto.

Upset, I contacted Toronto Police Service and was informed of Toronto, Municipal Code 950, Article XI, which covers police, parking enforcement and other essential municipal employees – and which sets out exceptions to traffic and parking when compliance would be “impracticable.”

According to Article XI, it’s okay to park illegally when:

(1) Ambulances, police or fire department vehicles or any other vehicle required in the case of emergency vehicles; or

(2) Vehicles actually engaged in works undertaken for or on behalf of the City, the Toronto Transit Commission or a public transit agency authorized to operate in the City or a public utility, including utilities providing telecommunications, energy or water/waste water services.

Of course, unlike, say taxis, parking enforcement vehicles do not have lights on their roofs that signal when they are on official business.

Parking illegally whenever you feel like it is not a habit that is restricted to parking enforcement officers. Police officers in general are known for taking liberties. In New York City, this habit has grown so frequent that a Brooklyn councillor has proposed a bill that would allow private citizens to photograph and report illegally parked cars, including illegally parked police vehicles. The NYPD’s Chief of Patrol, John Chell, has sworn to crack down on offending officers. He told Pix II, “It drives me insane when I see a car parked on the sidewalk blocking people from walking. I understand what the issue is. I am dealing with it. I am not treating it like a joke.”

And that’s where the envy came in.

I would love to be able to park illegally with impunity when it’s “impracticable.” While I condemn parking enforcement officers who park illegally to grab lunch, I wish I could follow suit. I would love the illegal parking superpower. It seems like an excellent perk to the job.

The only other people who can park illegally are wealthy people, for whom parking tickets are nothing more than amusing yellow coasters.

Of course, I could never be in law enforcement. There are too many ways in which I am, and have always been, unsuited to such a profession to explore in this brief column. Suffice it to say, an absence of bravery, limited physical prowess and a psychological profile with the resilience of a fudgsicle rule me out from a career serving, protecting and parking wherever I feel like. If I was a police officer, I would put my flashing lights on any time I was stuck in traffic. I would not be able to resist. My guess is that they would figure this out at the academy.

Handing out parking tickets can’t be an easy job. People dislike you. Sometimes they even spit on you or assault you. The least we can do is let them park wherever they want, especially if they are giving out tickets, and even once in a while when they need a cup of coffee.

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