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  • Madeline Kerr

Come for dinner, leave with a hefty fine

A day at the spa is expensive enough. Add to that a nearly $500 fine for an out-of-date license plate, and some guests at the Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa are spending a lot more than they bargained for.


Director of Operations at the Wakefield Mill, Linda Leclerc, says she is tired of hearing from her customers about hefty fines they’ve received from MRC-des-Collines police while parked in the inn’s parking lot on Chemin Mill. She told the Low Down that she has fielded two complaints in the last week alone from disgruntled customers who feel police targeted their Ontario license plates.


“It’s a perfect scenario for them,” said Leclerc, referring to MRC police. “All these cars lined up, all their license plates just sitting there, visible - it’s so easy.”


Some customers have taken to the internet to warn Ontarians about the prevalence of police activity at the Mill. One Google reviewer even cautions Ontarians to stay away from the village of Wakefield, writing in all caps, “Don’t give them your money!” This reviewer explains that, during a corporate event hosted at the Mill in July, three members of their party were ticketed for expired plates. Another recent review includes “a note for Ontario visitors” and identifies the Mill as a “hotspot” for police issuing tickets.


Leclerc estimates that roughly half of all guests at the Mill come from Ontario.


As of March 2022, Ontarians are no longer required to use a sticker to display the date they renewed their license plate. Although Ontario drivers must still renew their license plate every one or two years, there is no longer any fee for doing so, and the government has stopped automatically issuing reminders to drivers when they need to renew. Leclerc surmises that this makes it easier for Ontarians to forget and unwittingly let their registration expire.


MRC police spokesperson Sgt. Martin Fournel admits that the changes have caused confusion among Ontario drivers.


“When the law changed in Ontario, it was not very clear,” he told the Low Down recently, adding that he understands people’s frustrations and that it’s “the price of the fine that really hurts.”


While a ticket for an expired license plate in Ottawa costs $110, here in Quebec, it’s $499.


Fournel said he knows this is a lot of money but emphasized that individual police forces like the MRC-des-Collines have no power to determine the cost. He also said that it is the “personal responsibility of drivers” to ensure their registration is up to date, adding that “driving isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.”


He said that he has heard the complaint countless times over the years that Ontarians are targeted for tickets but insisted that this is not the case.


In 2022, Fournel said that his force issued 5,227 fines for Quebec residents and 3,362 for residents of Ontario. Fournel also insisted that the MRC does not impose quotas on its police officers.


Fournel would like to see local businesses tell customers to make sure that their plates are up to date before visiting like Camp Fortune ski hill did in an email to its visitors earlier this year.


“Why should I have to warn guests, ‘take care of your household bills before you visit?’” wondered Leclerc. She said that “the police are always amazingly responsive [in emergencies], and we need them for that,” but added that ticketing visitors does not serve the public interest.


“I’m sure police resources could be better spent doing something else,” she said. “People believe when they are parked on private property the police can’t [enter],” Leclerc explained, “but that’s not the case.” By this, she’s referring to the Quebec Highway Safety Code, which allows police to enforce laws on private roads or land where public traffic is allowed.


Leclerc has been Director of Operations at the Mill since 2019 but said she’s been told the issue has been ongoing since at least 2005. Indeed, the topic has been covered by the Low Down and other news media dating back several years.


In 2014 the Low Down reported the frequency of fines for Le Nordik spa-goers in Chelsea.


A scan of Google reviews of Le Nordik suggests that this is still the case: in the past year, at least 14 reviewers have left a complaint that their car was ticketed in the spa’s lot. Three of these complaints have occurred in the past two weeks.


Gabrielle Seguin, a spokesperson for Le Nordik, told the Low Down that although customers occasionally receive tickets while parked in the spa’s private lot, she does not think this is a frequent occurrence. Seguin also said that she doesn’t believe police are targeting Ontarians.


“We appreciate law enforcement’s help keeping our community safe,” Sequin said. “We don’t deny them access, and we know they are coming into our parking lot.”


Leclerc told the Low Down that she thinks the decision to ticket visitors for an administrative infraction is bad for tourism.


“Here we are, a Quebec company, getting people to visit the province following the toughest time [for businesses] after COVID,” she said, adding sardonically, “it’s like, ‘I hope you enjoyed your stay.’”


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