Scofflaw or samaritan? Montreal cyclist fined for warning fellow bikers about police trap

Steve Mertl
July 12, 2013
Scofflaw or samaritan? Montreal cyclist fined for warning fellow bikers about police trap

How many of us have not done this: You pass a police radar trap on the opposite side of the road and flash your high beams at oncoming motorists to warn them.

Are you breaking the law?

A Montreal resident faced the two-wheel version of that question this week and found the answer was yes.

Cyclist Chris Lloyd was handed a $41 ticket for running a read light on a downtown Montreal where police were set up to catch scofflaws like him.

Afterward, according to CTV News, Lloyd hung around the intersection and warned fellow cyclists about the police operation.

"I was standing on the other side of the red light [after getting my own $41 ticket for not stopping — fair enough], and warning other cyclists to stop at the red light," Lloyd explained in a Wednesday Facebook post about the incident.

"Apparently this constitutes interference in a police operation. I can only assume that their operation was to steal as much money as possible for cyclists that have a tendency to roll through red lights."

Lloyd admitted most cyclists do "burn the red" after slowing down to check for pedestrians and cars.

"The cops hide themselves behind a few parked cars just past the intersection," he wrote.

[ Related: 5 common Montreal cycling habits that break the law ]

Lloyd told CTV News an officer warned him that he was illegally obstructing a police operation.

“I said ‘you can’t be serious?’ Me, standing here at the red light, how can that be against the law?'” Lloyd said.

When he asked for proof, the officer slapped him with a $651 fine for obstruction.

Lloyd said he plans to pay the red-light ticket but fight the obstruction fine.

Here's what Section 129 of the Criminal Code of Canada says about obstruction:

"Every one who resists or wilfully obstructs a public officer or peace officer in the execution of his duty or any person lawfully acting in aid of such an officer ... is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or an offence punishable on summary conviction."

That seems to leave a lot of latitude for officers to decide what constitutes obstruction.

CTV legal analyst Jordan Charness said Lloyd stands a good chance of getting off.

“In fact there was a judgment a couple of years ago which said that flashing your lights to warn motorists that there are police around is not considered obstruction and the person was acquitted,” Charness told CTV News. “So, really, it's going to depend on what exactly happened here.”

But law student and former police officer Simon Boys, writing about the radar-trap scenario on his legal blog, noted that intent dictates whether there's wilful obstruction.

"This means that the fact that police are not catching speeders at that location is not enough to sustain a charge," he wrote. "It would be necessary to show that the accused actually had the purpose of preventing them from performing a duty [enforcing the speed limit]."

[ Related: Canada's most dangerous city for cyclists ]

I suppose you could argue that by warning drivers (or cyclists) you cause them to slow down (or stop at the red light), so you're actually helping by encouraging them to obey the speed limit. Whether you could sell that to a judge is another question.

Whatever happens with Lloyd, it seems the court of public opinion is divided. Many responding to an interview with him on CBC Montreal's Daybreak show had little sympathy for cyclists who think traffic laws don't apply to them, while others thought the police were going too far.