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Photo radar could return to Ont. roads as cities aim to trim swelling police budgets

Controversial technology was expunged in 1995 under the Harris government; its reintroduction would require a Traffic Act amendment

The brief period photo radar was allowed in Ontario created government revenues, but met significant public backlash. PHOTO: Clashmaker, via Wikimedia Commons

The brief period photo radar was allowed in Ontario created government revenues, but met significant public backlash. PHOTO: Clashmaker, via Wikimedia Commons

TORONTO—Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday she is willing to consider letting municipalities use technology instead of police officers for traffic management, but refused to specifically discuss whether she is in favour of photo radar.

The transportation minister was equally non-committal on what has been a political hot potato in Ontario for more than two decades.

The issue was raised again Monday by Toronto Mayor John Tory, who is looking for ways to cut the city’s $1-billion police budget. He will be formally requesting legislative changes that would allow the city—and other municipalities—to use technology, such as photo radars, and non-police officers to guide traffic.

“It sounds small, but again, we deploy a lot of people doing that kind of thing and if I think a lot of citizens out there ask themselves the question: ‘Is it the best use of expensive, highly trained police officers to be doing that kind of work?”’ Tory said. “A lot of them would say, ‘No, it’s not.”’

Wynne said it’s “very possible” that some of the changes Tory is asking for would be applicable across the province.

“We’re open to looking at all of those options, but you know, it really needs to be a discussion that starts with the municipalities who are on the front line, who are working with their police services and then coming to us and saying, ‘This is the kind of thing that we’d like to see,”’ Wynne said.

Asked about bringing in photo radar province-wide, Wynne said she would not talk about “specific technologies.” Nor would Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, who said if and when he received a formal request from a municipality he would look at it.

However, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger sent Del Duca a letter dated Jan. 22, requesting his “guidance and support in reintroducing photo radar as a tool for municipalities to use to improve road safety.”

Staff with the City of Hamilton spoke to Ministry of Transportation officials in December, and were told “the province is currently not considering reintroducing photo radar,” something that would require a Highway Traffic Act amendment, Eisenberger wrote.

Ministry staff said the letter was marked received by them Feb. 5, but has not yet made its way to Del Duca.

Toronto’s request comes as municipalities across the province are trying to rein in ballooning police budgets, and as Ontario is in the midst of a years-long process of looking at changes to policing and how to update the Police Services Act, which has not been substantially changed since 1990.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has been pushing for years for changes to the interest arbitration system, which it says favours replicating agreements from similar communities over a municipality’s ability to pay.

The association says if police and fire received the same economic adjustment as other municipal employees from 2010 to 2014, the cumulative savings would have been $485 million.

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