Surveillance footage from Stadium Station on Sept. 14, 2018, shows Karl Lusawovana Nunu tapping his Compass ticket twice, with neither tap opening the fare gates.
When the Calgary man’s friend and colleague, Chris Nicholson, used his Compass Card to tap them both out, Lusawovana Nunu received a $173 violation ticket for following someone through the fare gate.
Now, after an investigation and subsequent “objective review,” Metro Vancouver Transit Police (MVTP) are refusing to cancel Lusawovana Nunu’s citation, forcing him to consider a costly trip to B.C. to fight the fine in court later this month.
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“This is so unfortunate,” said Lusawovana Nunu, who moved to Calgary soon after the incident.
In a statement to Global News Thursday, MVTP Sgt. Clint Hampton said the ticket falls under the guidelines of the Greater Vancouver Transit Conduct and Safety Regulation, which says a person “must not misuse a fare gate by going through an open fare gate that was not opened by that person.”
“Based on information brought forward by the media, Transit Police reviewed the circumstances known to the police officer at the time the ticket was written and determined they acted appropriately in the circumstance by issuing a ticket,” Hampton said.
Paul Doroshenko, a criminal lawyer not connected to the case, is questioning transit police’s judgement.
“It’s not the type of case that inspires you with confidence about the regulations,” he said.
Doroshenko is wondering why authorities would proceed on such a charge when they are aware the complainant actually purchased a ticket beforehand.
“The purpose of the legislation is to keep people from stealing free rides, fraudulently obtaining a ride on transit and not paying for it, but what do we have? He actually paid for it.”
Gates wouldn’t open
Lusawovana Nunu’s ordeal began last fall during what was supposed to be a celebratory evening out with a friend before his company transfer to Calgary, where his wife and four children were waiting for him.
He bought a single Compass ticket at Columbia Station, but when he and Nicholson disembarked the train at Stadium Station, Nicholson noticed Lusawovana Nunu was having issues tapping out of the fare gates.
“He tapped it twice and it didn’t respond to the tap,” Nicholson told Global News on March 16. “So I just assisted him through the gate.”
Lusawovana Nunu said a transit police officer yelled for him to stop, and then accused him of following someone through the gate.
Lusawovana Nunu said he explained to the officer that he had a valid card and had tried to tap it two times to exit the fare gates, but they wouldn’t open. He was still ticketed.
“If I’m holding a valid ticket, my intent wasn’t just to come to Stadium and start playing with the gate or trying to follow somebody,” Lusawovana Nunu said on March 16. “This is not right.”
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Lusawovana Nunu reported the incident and says transit police opened an investigation. He provided them with a copy of his bank statement, which shows his $2.95 fare ticket was purchased from the Compass vending machine at 9:22 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2018.
Lusawovana Nunu says the investigating officer also viewed the surveillance video from Stadium Station, which corroborated his story.
When the investigation did not see his ticket tossed, Lusawovana Nunu reached out to Global News. When we contacted MVTP about Lusawovana Nunu’s case and detailed his evidence, they assigned the file for an objective review, which was launched on March 15.
On Wednesday, MVTP told Global News the review was complete. The next day, Hampton said its findings concluded that the elements of the offence were met.
“The officer who wrote the ticket did so based on the information they had at the time of dealing with Mr. Nunu,” Hampton’s statement read.
“Additionally, it was determined that if new information/evidence has come to light, then the dispute process will be the appropriate venue for this to be presented.”
Lusawovana Nunu says transit police are misrepresenting what happened.
“They are claiming that the evidence wasn’t presented to them at the time,” he said, adding he presented his Compass ticket to both officers involved at the scene before they asked to see his ID card.
Lusawovana Nunu says he asked for his Compass ticket back before he and his friend left the station and the officer returned it to him. He says he then used it to try and tap out a third time, at which point the fare gates finally opened.
‘The world is unfair’
Doroshenko said the matter should be tossed out based on how minimal it is.
“Here is the littlest of the little guy committing the smallest of the small offences,” he said.
“We don’t seem to prosecute people for money laundering in British Columbia but we seem to have, despite the prosecutorial discretion to not proceed in cases, the desire to run this thing.”
Hampton said transit police are mindful of the possible public perception regarding this incident but given the circumstances, “they respect the authority and discretion of the officer involved.”
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Transit police also stated they will respect the dispute process and “ultimately the decision will be made in court.”
Lusawovana Nunu says he has contacted the dispute centre requesting an adjournment in a final attempt to avoid paying upwards of $700 to fly to Vancouver for his looming court date.
“He went through this process and he can learn one thing from it, and that is that often the world is unfair,” Doroshenko said.
The criminal lawyer with Acumen Law says there are plenty of cases where Crown counsel will withdraw a ticket when they realize it is not in the public interest.
“You would think this would be the one they would look at it and say, ‘It’s not in the public interest to prosecute.'”