Covid creeps into every crevice including courts 

Around the Nation

A column by Tom Van Dusen

Back in the summer, I pulled out of my laneway in Prescott and headed west along King Street, arriving a block and a half away at the Edward Street intersection in a matter of seconds.

All the while, I was fumbling with by seatbelt, trying to rearrange my phone and wallet in my pockets as I always do to allow for a more comfortable drive. The light at Edward was red. Suddenly I noticed an OPP cruiser sitting across the intersection about to make the turn.

I didn’t move a muscle, didn’t bat an eye, hoping the officer wouldn’t spot my temporary beltless condition. He did and, amazingly to me, threw on his red and blues as if he was about to score a big bust on a notorious felon, and waved me over.

The cop barged up to my window, unmasked and un-distanced. I could quickly tell this kid was a keener and there wouldn’t be any breaks. While I mentioned that my house was right around the corner, I didn’t go into the wallet and phone rearranging story.

He goes back to the cruiser and returns with a wad of computer generated paper; it’s the ticket, with a $240 cash grab described on the bottom line. What the ticket or the cop didn’t say and what I learned later is that it the infraction carries two demerit points.

Then the cop tells me he’s going to do a breath test for no apparent reason just because he legally can. He unwraps a personal portable breathalyzer tube as if it was a new toy and, still unmasked and un-distanced, gets in my face to excitedly demonstrate how easy it is. He takes out another gizmo so I can try it; of course, at 5 p.m. on a weekday, he gets a zero reading as I told him he would.

As outlined on the ticket, my three options were to plead guilty and pay up; plead guilty with a submission to the justice of the peace; or plead not guilty. While I knew I was technically in the wrong, I wanted my day in court to tell my story, complain about the cop not minding COVID protocols, and at least try to dodge the demerits.

But, as I learned, with COVID upon us, you don’t readily get a day in court anymore. I eventually got a form back from Leeds & Grenville Court Services revealing that no in-person proceedings are being held at this time and that “audio guilty pleas” have been approved in matters where an agreement with prosecutor Gerry McDougall has been reached.

If a resolution is agreed to, an “audio hearing” will be booked by the prosecutor. But that approach means a guilty plea and I don’t want to enter such a plea because I feel there were extenuating circumstances. Ultimately, I don’t want those demerits on my otherwise clean record.

I figure I’ll take a shot at bargaining with McDougall, something a retired justice recommended to me. I call the number provided. It goes to message. The message is that I’ll get a quicker response by emailing the address provided. So I did that, Friday morning.

I told Gerry in the email I was prepared to discuss a compromise that would clear the demerits and would dispense with my complaint about the officer’s lack of COVID caution and random breathalyzer game playing. I await his reply.

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