By Scott Wheeler
April 21, 2017
When Nigel Fernandes, a parking enforcement officer of 10 years, tried to explain a potential parking infraction to a woman he didn’t intend to ticket, she rolled her car onto his foot and refused it move it.
“I was screaming in pain because I could actually feel the vessels in my toes exploding because of the compression,” said Mr. Fernandes, who now has one foot larger than the other. “I mean, it took officers to come and the fire to come and they had to cut my boot to get my foot out because they didn’t know what was underneath it. Police had to come and literally pull her out of the car.”
His story is part of an alarming trend. Assaults against Toronto’s parking enforcement officers have risen to new heights and the police service is cracking down.
“If someone does assault our parking enforcement officer, they’re going to be arrested, they’re going to be fingerprinted, they’re going to go through the courts system, and we now issue press releases for all of the assaults where charges are going to be laid and your name is there on the press release,” said Brian Moniz, who heads the Toronto Police Services’ Parking Enforcement Operations unit.
As ticket prices escalate, rushed drivers have grown increasingly angry with the officers serving them. Blocking a fire route set an offender back $20 six years ago. Now it can run them $250. Parking in a disabled spot used to carry a fine of $100. Now those same tickets run as high as $450. Parking in a rush hour route cost a driver roughly $60 a few years ago. Now it’s a $150 ticket.
In 2014, there were 52 assaults or threats of bodily injury against parking enforcement officers. In 2015, there were 60. By the end of 2016, there were 79. Already this year, there have been nearly two dozen assaults, a pace that would top last year’s record. The assault of a peace officer is an indictable offence with punishment running as high as five years of imprisonment.
Increasingly, Mr. Fernandes and his colleagues are taking the brunt of commuter anger in a city where parking can be expensive and hard to find, said Mike McCormack, the Toronto Police Association’s vice-president.
“We want to make sure that when people assault our officers or threaten them that they are prosecuted to the fullest.” Mr. McCormack added.
And while fewer parking tickets are being issued now than in previous years, Toronto’s parking enforcement unit still issues roughly two million fines a year. In rush hour, a focus for the city, there’s a higher chance that ticketing officers will encounter drivers as they return to their vehicles.
“Every day on some of these streets it’s like finding parking on Boxing Day, it’s not gonna happen,” Mr. Fernandes says. “The city wasn’t meant for this kind of transport of vehicles. We just don’t have enough road space for the amount of people coming into the city.”
To help deal with the problem, officers are taught to de-escalate any confrontation with a driver during the issuance of a ticket. But Mr. Fernandes says that only works 80 per cent of the time.
“Costs are starting to run up and get in peoples’ heads and they just lose their minds when they see a ticket,” he said. “You’re talking extraordinary numbers for something that they don’t seem to think is such a big deal and they just see red.”
Mr. Fernandes thinks more people have to take it in their stride.
“I mean you got a ticket where there’s avenues behind the ticket to deal with it. Take those avenues because the other avenue leads to jail or a lot of lawyer fees, and at the end of the day it’s going to cost you more if you decide to assault somebody.”