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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: 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: 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.

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 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” 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!

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