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WPS and MPI target Sunday Night Cruising
This summer has seen a change in Winnipeg that is affecting "Sunday Night Cruising". That change is the establishment of vehicle inspections that is a coordinated effort between the Winnipeg Police Services as well as MPI inspectors.

These inspections are taking place on Sunday evenings, and in prime "cruising" areas. There have been many stories and speculations circulating in regards to these inspections. Due to the nature of some of these stories, we decided to dig a little deeper into these inspections. Credit must be given to Gord Forman of MAAC, as his email describing his observations of one of these inspection stations further
piqued our curiosity. We wanted to do follow up with as many people involved as we could, to see if our observations matched his. With no real anticipation of what we would find, we were still surprised at where this led us.

Initially, the concern was prompted by reports that "cruisers" were being targeted and issued tickets that were not support by any existing laws or regulations. Others stories told of tickets issued for extremely minor infractions (where a warning could have sufficed), and the cancellation of insurance by MPI based on minor infractions.

Our attempts to reach the truth started with a visit to one of these inspection stations. This took place on July 4th, at Raglan Road and Portage Avenue. This visit was done by my father, Gerald. Following is his observations in his own words;

"On Sunday, July 4, I was able to observe the vehicle inspections in the church parking lot at Raglan Road and Portage Ave. I stopped and asked to speak to the person in charge. I was introduced to Patrol Sergeant Rick Zurba. I introduced myself and asked if I could observe what was going on and take some pictures. I was also introduced to Constable Elmer Hanson who is in charge of the Vehicle Inspection Section based out of Bangor and Orange. (For those of you who know Keith MacDonald, Elmer and Keith are a sight to see together. Elmer is as tall as Keith is short. Elmer said "Mutt & Jeff!")

I first saw them at about 5:30. I stayed there for about 90 minutes, then left to go to the Tavern. I returned later to see how things were developing. I talked to both the police and MPI. I also talked to some of the vehicle drivers, both before and after the inspections.

Both the Police and MPI officials were very co-operative and talked to me about what they were doing. They stressed that they were not against "Cruise Night", nor were they against any particular group of cruisers. They were only out to get unsafe and illegal vehicles off the road.

During the time I was there, I saw very few vehicles that I would say were "cruisers". I said that it appeared to me as if, if they were targeting anybody, it was the "rust buckets", but they said "No". They were looking for anybody that appeared to have an unsafe or illegal vehicle. If a lot of these were "rust buckets", well, so be it.

 I was told that almost never would you see a "classic" in there. Almost as rare was a "rod" or "muscle car". "These guys take care of their cars and make sure they are legal." The "tuners" are largely exempted unless there is something obviously done to the lighting or exhaust. Altered suspension is one thing they look out for. Excessive noise and bad driving would catch the eye of the patrols. Hydraulic or air suspension must have "bump stops" to keep from dragging on the road.

One of the Policemen told me that he was a "car guy" himself. Sgt. Zurba rides a Harley. He is a member of the HOGS.

Very few vehicles were pulled off of Portage Ave., right in front of the church parking lot. Patrol cars would cruise the area, looking for vehicles that didn't look as if they would pass. They would do a quick inspection, and if they found something wrong, then they would bring them in for a full inspection. Consequently, every vehicle pulled in failed, some in more ways than others. They said that there was no point in inspecting vehicles that would pass. They were seen checking vehicles in the Credit Union parking lot near Portage and Wall, where they did pull one vehicle in for inspection. This vehicle was subsequently seen on a deck.

They were also seen at MacDonald's, Portage and Erin. My understanding is that the Highway Traffic Act includes parking lots that are open to the public, but not those that are "gated".

I had been told by one of the drivers that they were to be given tickets for what was wrong. They would be given 14 days to make the corrections, and then the ticket would be cancelled if everything was ok. Constable Hanson told me that this was not quite right. Once a citation is issued, the police cannot take it back.

It becomes a "Court Document", and only the Court can deal with it. He said that there is a 14 day period for you to make the changes. (He also said that if you called them to say that your vehicle was in the shop having the repairs done, they would grant an extension.) Then you make an appointment to have the vehicle re-inspected. If it passed, the police will sign off on it, noting on the ticket that you have made the corrections. Then you have to go to the Court. He said that he understood that the Court had been very lenient, but that was strictly up to the Court.

When I finally left there, sometime after 10:00, they had inspected 50 plus vehicles, with about 10 being put "out of service" i.e. having to be towed. These were ones with blatant safety issues, like no brake lights or a broken spring. Almost all of the vehicles being inspected were the "every day" ones you see on the street. I was told that they normally inspect 60-70 vehicles in an evening.

Most of the drivers that I talked to were very philosophical about the whole thing. They seemed to realize the need for a safe vehicle. There were a few who were upset. Namely a couple of guys that said that they didn't have the $4,000 to repair the rocker panels on their car. Also, I saw one driver leave, obviously not impressed! He made an illegal left hand turn off of Raglan Road onto Portage, bouncing over the curb of the centre meridian and tearing down Portage. The police knew who it was, and I believe a summons was issued."
- Gerald Henry, AutoClubs.Ca

I followed this up by a visit to 44 Bangor Avenue, the "home" of the WPS Vehicle Inspections unit. There I met Constable Elmer Hanson and Constable Mark Ducharme. Both were extremely personable, and I found myself liking them within minutes. We had an extended conversation on the purpose of these Sunday inspections, the outcome of them, and some of the stories that were circulating about them.

During that conversation, I believed that both Hanson and Ducharme were answering all of my questions honestly. They even went as far as to inform me that should someone wish to bring their vehicle in willingly for an inspection, they would gladly inform the owner of any infractions without writing a citation or warning.
They followed that up by acknowledging that while they would give that allowance, that did not mean that it would be a free ride to violate any regulations. If their future travels brought them in proximity to a vehicle that had the owner had taken advantage of this "no ticket" inspection and enough time had passed to do repairs, they would probably take the time to ensure those repairs had been done. Fair enough, I figured.

While speaking with Hanson and Ducharme, I was able to observe a commercial vehicle that had been brought in for inspection. A number of items failed, including steering. Observing the testing, I fully anticipated that vehicle leaving the lot by flatdeck only. This was not the case. The owner was given 14 days to comply. In my opinion, the vehicle should not have been driven at all. So, in the case of at least that one inspection, much leeway was given.

Once that inspection was done, we resumed our conversation. I inquired about the choice of Sunday for the inspections. The answer I was given was "If we know a guy is breaking into houses Friday night, why would we be trying to find him Saturday morning". I took this to mean that there indeed was a target on at least some Sunday night cruisers. This was substantiated by the Ducharme making a comment about pressure from City Hall.

We discussed a number of both specific areas of inspection, as well as some of the laws and regulations in place. Neither Hanson nor Ducharme would express an opinion of the validity of any specific laws, they were clear that this came down to what was allowed and what wasn't. Not what should or shouldn't be allowed. They were the policy enforcers, not the policy makers. Again, fair enough. They had a job to do. Hanson went as far as to produce a copy of a book used for Provincial inspections, and allowed me to take that book. It appeared to me that these two officers were willing to work with those that wanted to conform to the laws and regulations.

I enjoyed our conversation, and as I said early, liked both of them. While I didn't think that they were in any way misleading during our conversation, I still felt that there was more to the story than what I knew at that point. So I turned to Winnipeg's largest online presence of auto enthusiasts, WinnipegHeights.com.

I figured that if any tickets had been issued that were not validated by any laws or regulations, that would be the best place to find someone, due to their large user base. I had no expectations of either finding someone or of striking out. I also spoke with as many "cruisers" as I could on Sunday nights, and car people throughout the day.

I was able to find a case where one individual informed me that he was cited for illegal suspension and lighting, but then attended (what I believe to be) the CVSA location at 44 Bangor and received a letter stating that his vehicle was indeed safe and legal. I've asked for him to contact me directly, and am currently waiting for him to do so. I am very interested in being able to follow up on his experience.

I managed to talk to a number of individuals that have gone through one of these inspections. Opinions varied, from casual acceptance to disgust that the WPS was inspecting cars rather than catching murderers. There did seem to be a large number of individuals that objected to the way they were treated by the WPS. Many reported that officers treated them in far from respectful manner, and swearing was reported in at least one case.

It should be noted that while persons have come forward to tell their stories first-hand, we have not yet been shown any actual proof (tickets and/or court documents) to substantiate these stories. We cannot confirm the validity of any of them. Should anyone wish to present a citation that is faulty, we would be very interested in seeing that. Nothing validates a claim of false citations or harassment like documentation.

I think it's also important to go on record as saying that we cannot confirm that bad citations are being issued, or that they are not. If there are invalid citations out there, they should certainly be made public. That being said, it's probably not in car community's best interest to repeat stories of that effect that are third hand and unsubstantiated. This simply leads to increased animosity between the car scene and WPS.

While my conversation with Constables Hanson and Ducharme was pleasant, and I liked both of them, I had remaining questions. If cruisers were not being targeted, why Sunday nights? Why a well-known Credit Union and McDonald's parking lot? Why not evening rush hour any weekday? Why would city hall be putting on pressure for these inspections?

While the inspections, on the surface, did not seem to be targeting "cruisers", were they really? On Sunday night, we have people out that just plain appreciate what owners are doing with their rides, but don't have a vehicle of interest themselves. So the "average" vehicle we were seeing inspected may simply have been anticipated collateral damage, so to speak. If you're out Sunday night, you're a problem, perhaps?

Too many questions seemed to be unanswered. So I sent an email off to the mayor's office, asking who in City Hall was applying the pressure, and why were they doing so? Initially, I received a canned "thank you for your comments" response via email, and figured that was going to be it.

I was wrong. The day following the canned email, my cell phone rang. It was Mayor Sam Katz himself, taking the time to respond to my email. I hadn't expected him to call personally, I figured if I got any response beyond that canned auto-reply, it would be from a "flunky".

Mr. Katz made it clear that he was not in favour of police resources being used to "ticket some guy with LED's on his wipers" when there is the crime that there is in the North End. He told me that stories that there was pressure from City Hall were "lies", and that should I hear that from within the WPS, to give that person his number, and he would set the record straight. He proceeded to tell me that nobody in city hall had the power to tell the WPS to conduct these inspections, himself included.

The outcome of poking around trying to find the truth has left me with the very distinct impression that the primary reason for inspections on Sundays are not for safety reasons, despite what CVIU says or believes. If safety was indeed the primary drive behind these inspections, then why not Monday through Friday during rush hour? There has to be as many unsafe vehicles on the road then as there are Sunday night. More, from what I see. No, it's to shut down what many perceive to be a problem. Sunday Night Cruising.

Many complaints have been laid in regards to activities perceived to be associated with Sunday night cruising. While I don't have a problem with actions being taken to address specific issues, I do take exception to what appears to be an attempt to end Sunday night cruising. Rather than deal with specific problems, there seems to be an attempt to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Further "legwork" is going to include contacting both the WPS and MPI to try to determine exactly who called for this Sunday night targeting, an exactly how MPI is able to have the WPS bring vehicles in to temporary inspection stations on their behalf. If we, as taxpayers, can't get the WPS to effectively crack down on more serious issues plaguing our community, how then does MPI have the power to use their services this way?

We have to agree with Mayor Katz. Dealing with serious crime issue within the city should be taking precedence over police resources. Not spending time bringing in vehicles for MPI to inspect.

Someone somewhere has determined that the best way to deal with the problem makers is to scare off everyone, including the law-abiding tax-payers that happen to enjoy Sunday night cruising. And it may well work, unless we as automotive enthusiasts can collectively overcome our biases against specific tastes in vehicles that don't match our own. I mean stick together, no matter what we drive. Present a unified front.

We currently have Manitoba Association of Auto Clubs (MAAC) representing the interests of many enthusiasts. The addition of more members, and of more varied preferences would only increase our power as a car community and to be seen by legislators as the large group of voters that we really are.

I invite all members of our hobby to join together to support the protection of all reasonable elements of our hobby. Even if it means supporting the availability of leaded racing fuels despite not caring about racing at all. Or petitioning the allowance of JDM standards alongside DOT standards, regardless of interest in importing those vehicles.

I also invite Mayor Sam Katz, our city councillors, and MPI to work with our local groups and organizations to work out a mutually acceptable plan to integrate Sunday night cruising into part of the recognized "flavour" of Winnipeg. We take pride in many other activities and functions here in the city, and cruise night should be recognized as part of who we are. Because it is. Embrace it.

Sunday night cruising is an activity that is enjoyed by thousands in Winnipeg. Not just scofflaws violating the HTA or commandeering dangerous vehicles. It's a source of revenue for many businesses. It's our social network. It's one more thing that makes Winnipeg great. We've allowed the press and others to give us a bad rap. It's time to stand united and be proud of our Sunday night cruising tradition.

As Red Green was fond of saying, "We're all in this together".

Ray Henry,