Toronto drivers that were issued around 880,000 parking tickets are getting off scot-free after their cases dragged on too long.
The city's decision to withdraw the tickets caught politicians off guard, with Mayor John Tory warning that people not being held to account "makes a mockery of the parking laws." And it laid bare how the courts had for years been unable to keep up with the number of drivers wanting to fight tickets.
The tickets were quietly pulled on Friday, primarily to abide by Charter requirements for a trial within a reasonable time. Ironically, the city stands to save money through the decision, arguing it would have cost more to go after these drivers than the tickets were likely to have generated in revenue.
The city moved to a fixed-fine system in 2014, meaning people can no longer hope for a reduction in court. But the backlog wiped out last week shines a spotlight on the perverse math of the old system, in which Toronto expected to lose money when people issued tickets with small fines chose to fight in court.
Using historic assumptions about conviction rates and the chances of the fines being reduced, the city believes it would have grossed an average of not quite $23 on each of the withdrawn tickets. However, Toronto would have been out about $26 per ticket in court costs.
The city says the withdrawn tickets had been piling up since 2002 and account for about 3 per cent of the total volume issued since then.
According to Barry Randell, director of court services for the city of Toronto, the bulk of the withdrawn tickets were issued since 2008. He said that the problem accumulated before recent increases to courtroom space and the number of local justices of the peace, both of which he thinks should prevent such a backlog growing again.
But before those improvements, the system couldn't keep up with the number of people wishing to fight their tickets. "A lot" of the tickets were for modest sums that were deemed a lower priority, Mr. Randell said.
"Part of my responsibility is to do as much as I can to make sure the serious charges get to court," he said. "And so one of the results is that these less serious charges have to wait."
City staff say that stopping pursuit of these cases has no effect on the budget because there is a cushion built in for tickets that may be withdrawn. But the $20-million in revenue they could theoretically have brought in would have been welcome in Toronto, which struggled to balance its books this year.
Mr. Tory said the decision to wipe out the old tickets was pragmatic, given the Charter issue, but he was alarmed that the problem had been allowed to fester for so long.
"It's not just about the money, it's also about the fact it allows people to kind of get away with just ignoring [tickets]," he said.
"The notion that it should amount to 880,000 tickets over  years which could have produced gross revenues of $20-million is an extraordinary thing that shouldn't be repeated. And that's why I hope somebody can look at it, whether it's from the auditor's office or somewhere else, to figure out how we can improve the procedure to make sure it doesn't happen again."