I got done for speeding a while back and went to trial (a year later) to plead guilty to a reduced speed, so to speak. The brush with the (quasi)criminal system — my first since being put in the slammer for parking tickets way back when I was a callow scofflaw — was interesting, if only because there was a steady parade of semi-sheepish drivers from all walks of life passing through the same system on that day.
The speeding law is one of the most frequent points of contact between the public and “the law,” I’d say. Which makes the recent judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal in York (Regional Municipality) v. Winlow, 2009 ONCA 643 (CanLII) more important than you might think at first glance.
Laskin J.A.’s judgment is as clearly written as usual. Here he sets out the basic facts and the issues:
 Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act imposes a scale of fines for motorists convicted of speeding. The dollar amount of the fine increases for every kilometre per hour over the speed limit. This system of fines has given rise to a practice in some Ontario municipalities, which is reflected in the facts of this case.
 Robert Winlow was caught speeding on Highway 400 in the Regional Municipality of York. The police officer who stopped him said that he was driving 30 kilometres per hour over the speed limit but ticketed him for only 15 kilometres per hour over the limit. However, when Mr. Winlow refused to pay the set fine and asked for a trial, the prosecutor sought an amendment to charge him with driving 30 kilometres per hour over the limit. The justice of the peace refused to amend the charge, and her decision was upheld on appeal in the Ontario Court of Justice.
 The Regional Municipality of York appeals with leave to this court and asks us to rule on these questions:
1. Is the particular rate of speed an essential element of the offence of speeding?
2. Depending on the rate of speed, is the fine for speeding fixed or does the court have discretion to reduce the fine?
3. Did the courts below err in refusing to amend the charge, and, more broadly and importantly, is the practice of “amending-up” permissible?
In sum, the Court answers the questions as follows: The rate of speed is not an essential element of the offence; the court does not have discretion to reduce the fine; and the practice of amending up is permissible. But you might enjoy reading the judgment, not only because you, too, speed, but also for the bit of statutory interpretation that Laskin performs, which includes a reference to the French version of the Act.