Pickers and the police


I’ve never had issues with the police before. Well, there was that time a few years ago when they confiscated a bag of bedbuggy costume jewelry that I had collected from a huge trash pile in the Plateau. However, that encounter doesn’t bother me so much anymore because I understand how one might be suspicious of sketchy looking bearded guys (especially those with unkempt beards as was my style at the time) looking through jewelry on the street. I think I should have been able to get that jewelry back, but whatever.

Nevertheless, I had some issues with them on last week’s trip to TMR, one of Montreal’s wealthier neighbourhoods. I have a bit of a history in that neighbourhood, but only with the “neighbourhood security” folks who aren’t real cops. They’ve given me several warnings, and finally a 220$ ticket last year.

On Tuesday night I drove there as I usually do. I remember seeing more police than usual, but nothing out of the ordinary. I had a close brush with the neighbourhood security folks, but they didn’t even seem to see me.

I went along my usual route until I started down a street where two police cars sat parked beside each other in a way that blocked the road. As I said earlier, I’ve never really had any issues with the police, so while this was certainly unusual I still wasn’t worried. I continued down the road, assuming that one would pass the other and allow me to move along. However, I got within 20 meters and they didn’t budge. They just sat there blocking the road. More annoyed at the inconvenience than anything else, after about 10 seconds of sitting around doing nothing I reversed into a driveway so I could go the other way. At this point one of the cars finally moves, and I passed as I would have normally.

This seemed like a good thing, but my celebration was short-lived. One of the cars started tailing me, and soon enough the lights came on for me to pull over.

My thinking is that these guys were instructed to give me as hard a time as possible within the confines of the law. They weren’t very pleasant to say the least. I was told that they were looking for someone by my description (they mentioned someone driving a hatchback, but I assume that “beardo” was part of that description) who was trespassing on people’s property. At first I thought they were referring to something like B&E, but I think they actually meant more generally entering people’s property ie: the first few feet of the driveway. The language barrier was a bit of factor here. I was told that I was being detained, which is a situation I’ve never been in before, and was informed that I wasn’t allowed to use my cell phone even when they weren’t around. They asked me all kinds of questions. What do you do for a living; what is your relationship with the owner of the car (it’s not my car); did you go to school; do you have a criminal record; and so on. They looked around the car and asked me about the junk I had collected, which at that time was a few different Walkmans and other mediocre electronic bric-a-brac, a bag of small change, a vintage doctor’s scale, a towel, a sweater, and a minorly busted vintage stepladder – certainly nothing too exciting.

They disappeared for a bit before coming back and asking me to do a bunch of car-related tests. Right-turn signals, left-turn signals, brake lights, high beams, wipers and so on. The first test was of the emergency brake, which appeared to fail because I thought they told me to put on the gas, thus making it seem as if the e-brake didn’t work. It works fine, and in retrospect they probably actually did tell me to apply the gas knowing that it would give them a reason to hassle me further.

After the tests they left for a while, and I sat doing nothing but listen absentmindedly to the Vinyl Cafe for around 20 minutes. I was calm enough, but slightly paranoid I’d be arrested for some reason.

Exhibit A
Exhibit A: Reasons section from Notice for Mechanical Inspection

At long last they came back with gifts. They were forcing me to do a mechanical inspection of the car within 48 hours, basically a safety all over again, because the emergency brake didn’t work (it works fine) and the trunk didn’t close (it closes fine, the handle just needs to be in the right position and they didn’t know how to work it). They refused to allow me to test the e-brake again. They gave me a ticket for 63$ because they said I didn’t have the things in my car “tied down” correctly, thus causing a safety hazard.

They also noted that if caught again I could be ticketed, but with what they didn’t specify. In an odd way this statement felt a bit toothless – it seemed to admit that there was no real crime to charge me with.

They kept mentioning the fact that I shouldn’t be entering people’s properties, even if it’s only the first few feet of a driveway. I noted my understanding that the city actually has control, if not ownership over the first meter or so of land from the sidewalk, and he said that it “doesn’t matter.” Okay then!

As I said earlier I think these guys were instructed to hassle me as much as possible, and I’m pretty sure they intentionally misled me when explaining the mechanical inspection. The lead officer told me I had 30 days to bring the car to be inspected, and only when I read the paper the next day did I find out I only had 48 hours to do so. After that extremely short window, anyone caught driving the car could be ticketed and towed. Thus, this could have been extremely problematic if I had taken him at his word. Thankfully I didn’t leave it too long, as was able to get an appointment in time.

Exhibit B
Exhibit B: Offence section of ticket received on evening of October 25th

As well, the ticket isn’t for not having stuff “tied down.” It’s more something you’d receive for packing your car so full of stuff that you couldn’t see the rear-view mirrors. The car wasn’t even close to full at the time, for the record. I might challenge this in court, but then again for just 63$ I may prefer to not have to deal with it.

Exhibit C: The view of the trunk as it was when I was pulled over.
Exhibit C: The view of the trunk as it was when I was pulled over.

Regardless, it was an interesting experience to say the least. I suspect that the neighbourhood security folks have been nagging the police to do something about this for a while, and maybe they finally got around to making an appearance. I suppose it’s possible an individual called the police on me, but I kind of doubt that they’d make such a quick and coordinated appearance for someone complaining about garbage picking.

Exhibit C: The results of the inspection. Note how they are minor and have no relation whatsoever to the reasons given in Exhibit A.
Exhibit D: The results of the inspection. Note how the defects are minor and have no relation whatsoever to the reasons given in Exhibit A.

The police certainly succeeded at hassling me. The ticket is 63$, and the cost to get the car inspected was 125$. The repairs, which are minimal (one shaky ball joint and the headlights needed to be polished) came to around 235$, and the re-inspection cost just over 46$. The value of the time and inconvenience required to schedule and go to three appointments within a frustratingly tiny 48h windows is hard to calculate, but I’d say it’s worth at least 200$. After all, instead of dealing with this BS I could be listing, picking, and shipping. All that comes to a total of around 623$, but at least the repairs I did weren’t a total sunk cost.

The forced mechanical inspection turned out to be the most expensive and time consuming punishment. The evidence that the car was “in such poor condition that it constitutes a hazard” (as was checked by the officer in Exhibit A) was extremely flimsy at best. In fact, the receptionist at the mechanical inspection center apologized profusely for the inconvenienced caused. She asked if we had already done repairs when the car was brought in (we hadn’t), and said that she’d never seen a car come in for such minor reasons (which turned out to not even be real). She seemed to believe very much that the police were heavy-handed in giving out the notice.

It’s probably best I avoid that part of town for the time being. It’s a shame because they throw out such great stuff, and because there’s really nowhere else nearby I can go on a Tuesday night.

I share this story with you because it’s interesting, but also because I want to provoke thought on the topic. This experience raises obvious questions about the legality of garbage picking, but perhaps more importantly shows how non-criminal behavior can still be subject to formal methods of social control. I’m sure I’m not the first person to be punished in this way. I think it’s also worth noting the special treatment that the wealthy receive in getting “protection” from scavengers. In all my years I’ve seen no attempt whatsoever by police to control picking in dense, working class neighbourhoods such as the Plateau, Rosemont, or Verdun, all of which are fairly heavily and visibly picked for cans, scrap metals, and random junk.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter! Also, if you happen to be a lawyer I’d appreciate some legal advice just in case I ever find myself in such a situation again. It’d be good to know what my rights are.

And since some of you have already asked, I would very much appreciate any help I can get in paying these expenses. You can find my Paypal donation widget in the “Contribute to Garbagefinds.com” link below. However, I’d also be happy if you simply shared my blog with some friends, or if you consider buying some of my eBay or Etsy stuff as gifts!

Relevant links

1. Facebook page
2. My eBay listings
3. Etsy store
4. Kijiji listings
5. Contribute to Garbagefinds.com

Email: thingsifindinthegarbage@gmail.com. I often fall behind on emails, so I apologize in advance if it takes me a while to get back to you.

24 thoughts on “Pickers and the police”

  1. I’m so pissed for you right now! My first thought is challenge it, but I understand that you may want to avoid the stress / time / inconvenience of doing so. Also I’m no lawyer, so I don’t know how realistic are your chances of winning in court. It won’t cover the costs of inspection and repair, so at this point what’s 63$… Infuriating, still.

    1. Yeah we’ll see. I’m not sure it’s worth challenging for only 63$, though there’s a good chance I’d win. I’m just thinking of the hours I’d have to spend preparing my case, going to the courthouse, figuring out the system, and so on, not to mention the fact that I could still lose (I figure if the cop actually shows up he’ll win because his word will likely be taken as more reliable than mine given that he’s a cop).

      Plus, by challenging the ticket I’m reminding the guy that I exist. And maybe it’s best if I don’t do that.

      I generally think that if something’s not going to make me at least 10$ an hour (minimum wage), and preferably more it’s probably not worth doing. I’m not sure challenging the ticket is worth that much when accounting for the time and risks involved.

  2. It’s total bullshit that they stopped you and gave you that ticket. I hope you are able to contest it, but even so those other costs won’t be refunded. I don’t even get why people care if you go through their garbage, they obviously don’t want it anymore. Don’t the cops have anything more important to do? I have a little card that states my rights if I’m ever stopped by the police, it says that when driving a car you have to give your name, birthday and address or show ID, but you don’t have to say anything else. I’m pretty sure they have to have probable cause to search your car, which they don’t seem to have here. I hope a lawyer can give you more information!

    1. I hope so as well. When it comes to the police, I always assume that anything other than full cooperation will make them more suspicious of me / make them want to mess with me even more. But it would be nice to know my rights, the actual laws in regards to trash picking, and so on.

  3. As far as I am concerned, there ought to be people like you across the country rescuing perfectly good items from landfill. The weathly really can be an irritating lot. Clearly the class system is alive and well in Canada. And given the regular news reports about how corrupt the Quebec police really are (at every level) it ought not be a surprise they would abuse their power in this fashion. I hope some bigtime lawyer finds out about your experience and decides can go to bat for you. Ridiculous.

    1. Thanks, yes I think the world would be better off if more people picked through trash. It would certainly be good for the environment, and I think it’s actually pretty good for the economy. For instance, when I sell something to someone in another country I’m bringing their dollars into the Canadian economy. As well, I’m creating my own job, and leaving another job for someone else to do.

      My thinking is that the police are like this in big cities everywhere, though there have been a few Quebec-specific scandals recently.

  4. I’m sorry about your experience. I’m living in Ontario now. My boyfriend are I are doing exactly what you’re doing for years with lots of success. I’m originally from Mtl. and it doesn’t surprise me at all to hear about your “Nazi” like experience. One of the main reasons that I’m happy to be out of MTL. is after going through some heavy handed ways of handling things just like you went through. Good luck and there’s plenty of garbage outside QC. too.

    1. I just wanted to add. Here in the rest of Canada, not only do we garbage hunt but whenever we see a home owner, and we’re going through their garbage, we say hello, have been invited to look at more stuff to give away, and even had a nice Sicilian man ask us in for a glass of wine,lol!

      1. Haha. To be honest I find it hard to believe that a place exists where no one ever gets angry at trash pickers. It might depend on the area, and the specific type of trash picking (going into bags is admittedly a little more intrusive than just taking what’s on the curb or in open boxes), the demographic, etc. I do think that rich people tend to be more annoyed / afraid because of the identity theft possibility (though I think most identity thieves have better ways to get that information than by looking through trash).

        I’m had plenty of good experiences in Montreal. Even in rich neighbourhoods. It really depends on the person. But yeah, the police have their things they can do, and are more likely to do them when it’s rich people who are complaining.

  5. I’m sorry you had to deal with this also. I’d probably let it go and avoid the area for awhile. One thing I’ve found in my years of doing this, if you are using a car, keep it immaculately clean and quiet, I’m a bit OCD about my vehicle even though it’s an older ride, so I never really noticed anything until I had to borrow my boyfriend’s ride a few times, which although newer, is a bit noisy, rusty, and normally needs a bath. Going through the better neighborhoods I was followed EVERY time I took it out. One of the cops that knows us later said someone ALWAYS calls them when they see it. I guess it sticks out too much and says I definitely don’t live here. LOL

    1. That would certainly make a difference. This car is quite clean and quiet, so it’s really just that I’ve been there too often and they recognize me. In a perfect world I’d be trash picking in a Mercedes SUV or something – then maybe I’d fit in.

  6. I am totally pissed that police harassed you and gave you a ticket. However today in the news there was a story about ticket quotas, which probably mean that they will ticket people fot no apparent reason to make their quotas…..

    I also think that the police was tipped off and a neighbor probably complained about your trash picking….people are jealous and petty.

  7. That is total harassment. I have been reading your blog for a long time and LOVE IT. I agree with the comment above about there needing to be more people like you. If people throw stuff out it should be fair game for anyone. The stuff you find that people have just thrown out always amazes me and disturbs me. So sorry this happened to you. Ridiculous!

  8. You should definitely contest the ticket,it seems to me 1) they rarely show up,(you win) 2) you have such a solid case,the judge might give’em a bit of talking to. This being said,i think us “alternative” people should be aware that we Do have a loyal opposition,a weird *priviledged*cult-of-the-perfect-lawn*free-market*nazi zombie horde” that hide in plain sight,Seemingly normal,they’re actually seething cauldrons of resentment as per anyone not of their cult,Harper brought them out by the millions & shirtless justin’ ‘ain’t doin’ nuthin’ to get ’em back under the suburbs*tarsands they came from,a friend of mine started a simple-living,penny-pinching,d.i.y,barter group,only to discover that a person who never showed up had only had the intention as he virulently & openly stated,to “expose” their “damaging” the real economy & “hard working people” & would be watching them for anything he could possibly rat to the c.r.a. ! A lot of people are cool,but the rob ford*harper wage slave crew ain’t going away anytime soon.sadly.

  9. Each municipality has its own bylaws regarding garbage disposal and collection and it’s worth checking for the areas you scavenge to make sure there is no potential risk of this type. Whatever the case for Ville Mont-Royal, I’m sorry you got dinged.

    1. I was aware of the regulations, but it’s always been worth the risk to me. Whether this experience changes my calculation of that risk is yet to be determined.

  10. I am sorry this happened.I think you provide an excellent service by keeping stuff out of the landfill. Hopefully this will be you last ticket ever!

  11. May be this situation could be turned into a good business move and the fine could become a research expense. Perhaps you could change your business model a bit for the fancier neighborhoods. Where I live there are a lot of businesses that will clean out a room or house for a modest fee. The business gets to keep the discarded items and sell them to make a larger profit. What I was thinking is that you could advertise that you will pick up unwanted items and thus they would not need to put those items on the curb which “attracts trash pickers” and makes the area look less attractive. You might even dress very nicely and pitch the idea to the home owners’ association or company that manages the neighborhood. This way you could add revenue of the service fee, still be able to get the good items for resale, and not have to worry about police and security guard harassment. Downside might be that you would need to rent or acquire a nice van or cargo truck. Presentation is everything in these wealthy neighborhoods. If you look nice and pitch it as a value added service, I bet you could get exclusive rights to all the nice things that they throw out.

    1. It’s a good idea. Unfortunately I have no savings right now to buy a van, for instance, and I certainly can’t do the job in a hatchback. Also, there is a fair amount of competition with 1-800-Got-Junk who I assume gets a lot of this kind of business. Not that I couldn’t undercut their prices, but I still don’t really have enough money to get it off the ground. Maybe someday.

  12. I wonder if you called 1 800 got Junk, if they would let you pick thru what they don’t want. I cannot imagine they sell vintage items like you do. Or if that doesn’t work negotiate to sell their items for them for a cut and put the extra $ away for a van. I cannot believe the perfume collection.

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