Friday, June 03, 2005

On the cover of the Star front web page .... oy.

Unpaid fines a ticket to no York degree
School says pay up or don't graduate
City says parking tickets are illegal

Aliza Libman is a model York University graduate. She's won two academic awards, a scholarship, been elected to the university senate and helped edit the campus newspaper.

But up until this week, she wasn't going to graduate.

The reason: $150 in unpaid university parking tickets that the city considers "illegal."
Libman was among a number of York graduates surprised by letters from the university warning that if they didn't pay their outstanding parking fines, they wouldn't get their degrees or transcripts this month.

The surprise came because those fines are considered illegal by the city, which passed a bylaw last summer stating private lot operators and institutions could only punish parking violators with City of Toronto tickets — meaning the city, and not the private company or institution, gets the money.

"They're not legitimate according to the bylaws of the city. You can't just disregard the laws," said 21-year-old Libman, who swallowed her principles and paid the fine, so she could graduate and get her transcripts, which she needs to land a teaching position in the fall.

"It's bullying," she says. "York is fighting a war of attrition. It has time on its side and it's going to keep bullying people until they pay."

The university sees it as regular business. Its founding act, issued by the province in 1965, exempts it from the city's bylaw, said Nancy White, York's director of media relations.

"It gives York authority in a variety of areas, including controlling university property," White said, adding that the university has a long-held policy of withholding degrees from students for any outstanding fines, including library fees as well as parking.

"We have the authority, by law, to issue parking notices."

That's news to the woman in charge of enforcing the city's laws.

"If you live or own or do business in the city, we would expect you to abide by the rules the city sets out," said Pam Coburn, the city's executive director of municipal licensing and standards.
Her staff has not started enforcing the bylaw yet. They are waiting until the courts rule on a legal challenge launched by a private parking firm.

But Toronto Councillor Howard Moscoe urged students to take their own legal action.

"The university has a mandate to issue degrees to people, not to withhold them for phony parking tickets that are clearly illegal under the city's parking bylaw," said Moscoe (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence), who spearheaded the new rules at city council last summer. His office assistant has been fielding calls from concerned students about the letters all week.

"(The university has) disregard and disrespect for the students and disregard for the law," Moscoe said.

Saddled with looming debts and tight time frames, few students have taken his advice.
Geography graduate David Terrell doesn't even have the $395 to pay his nine parking tickets.

"Graduation has just passed me by," said Terrell, 33. "I feel like I'm just a small fish in a large pond."

For Christian Rizea, it's just another lump on his mounting $11,000 student debt. The 22-year-old psychology student racked up 60 tickets over the year, assuming he wouldn't have to pay them in light of the city bylaw. In fact, he started driving only after the bylaw passed. He took the bus the previous three years, because he couldn't afford the $9 daily parking fees.
Then came a bill for $2,400. He settled with traffic services for $1,130.

"I felt they're holding my degree at ransom," he said. "People should be reimbursed, definitely."

York University has its own parking services, which regulates parking on the campus's 12,000 spots. Tickets average about $40, but can run as much as $250 in some cases.

The university is willing to come up with a payment schedule for students who can't afford the fines, White said.

"We don't want to prevent anyone from graduating," she said. "That's clearly not our intention."
The University of Toronto has a policy of withholding students' transcripts until they pay their outstanding fees — but those don't include parking tickets, which are official City of Toronto tickets issued by officers trained by the Toronto Police Service.

Aliza's epilogue: I was going to fight them on this, but my dad paid the tickets and ended the fight for me, so I graduated with my class. As far as I know, Nancy White no longer works at York as of Dec. 2007 and Howard Moscoe remains a prominent and outspoken member of Toronto City Council.


At 9:32 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're famous all over again! (Didn't you have something published in the Toronto Star a while back?)

Now everyone knows that you're a model graduate that doesn't pay her parking tickets.

At 9:33 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

... I shoulda had the common courtesy to identify myself as Shawn. Meh. 4:30am with no sleep in sight.


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