When Vicky Tsorlinis picked up the mail a few weeks ago, there was a letter from the Ontario government that she and her son didn’t expect to receive. Inside an envelope was a notice from Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation saying 18-year-old Isaac was being assessed three demerit points for driving through a stop sign.
Isaac was pulled over last summer near Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood on a Sunday evening by police and was ticketed. He considered challenging the traffic charge in court, but decided he didn’t want to miss a university class. So he pleaded guilty and voluntarily paid the $350 fine.
The notification about demerit points came as a shock to the Tsorlinis family because Isaac was riding his bicycle, not driving a motor vehicle, when he was stopped and ticketed by police.
When court officials were asked about the possibility of demerit points before the ticket was paid, Tsorlinis said her son was given assurances not to worry.
“When Isaac went to court services and said, ‘Will there be any demerit points taken off for this infraction?’ (the official) said, ‘Absolutely not,'” said Tsorlinis.
“I was appalled, it’s not what we were told.”
“The conviction can appear on your driving record, but should not carry any demerit points,” said Toronto Police Traffic Services Const. Clint Stibbe.
But other cyclists are facing similar situations as well.
“It was shocking that demerit points were attached to this,” said Diane Allen of Toronto, whose 32-year-old son Christopher was ticketed the same night as Isaac Tsorlinis.
Christopher also now has demerit points registered against his driver’s licence, which could affect his driving status and insurance rating.
“He had no idea you could get this kind of ticket on a bike,” said Allen.
While bicycle riders don’t require a licence, cyclists who are pulled over are required by law to identify themselves. If someone does not cooperate, they could be detained.
“You’re obliged to give your information or you may be subject to arrest for obstructing police,” said Paul Copeland, a criminal defence lawyer who practiced for almost 50 years before retiring in December.
But he said any form of identification would be sufficient, adding it does not necessarily need to be an operating licence.
Cyclists may be surprised to learn that the Ministry of Transportation keeps track of offences, even if someone does not have a licence yet, police said.
“Once we write the ticket, the Ministry of Transportation transposes that information off the ticket into their systems. When that occurs, a driver’s licence number is generated if the person does not have a licence. So even if they’ve never applied for one, it’s used as a tracking number for any offences that person may commit,” said Stibbe.
“If you violate traffic legislation on a bicycle, you’re subject to demerit points if convicted under the Highway Traffic Act,” said Copeland.
“I wasn’t aware of it, I don’t know how many other people were aware of it.”
Tsorlinis said court officials and police should inform cyclists of the entire penalty if pleading guilty to a ticket and not give incorrect information.
“It’s just not right, it’s not fair. The information has to get out there.”