If you want to avoid getting a ticket from Canadian police, just don’t do what I did.
As it is true for any expat or travel-abroad experience, you should be very careful in interpreting reality from behind the glasses of your own country way of doing things.
My mistake was basically thinking as I was driving in my country, which it is: “if you’re driving on a freeway and you don’t see any car with written ‘POLICE’ on it, then there are no police cars around.”
Simply – and tragically – wrong.
Here’s my story
I was driving from Toronto to Niagara Falls pleased as Punch. It was a sunny Saturday, I was free to do whatever I liked with my weekend, I had been able to rent a Grand Cherokee for a cheap price, and a cozy hotel was waiting for me near the Falls. Half an hour earlier I was on the shore of Lake Ontario having lunch under the sun, and that had put me in a very good mood.
There was one thing I was very unhappy about though: my wife was not there with me.
I thought I could bring her some video souvenir then. Thus, while driving over a high bridge, I grabbed my camcorder, pressed “record” and placed the device on the dashboard.
No more than 10 seconds later a black SUV behind me with no marks and with smoked glasses lit up. Blue and red lights were flashing from behind its radiator grid. As long as they were off, it would have been impossible to notice them.
I felt dismayed. I hesitated. Then a siren went off. It was pretty clear I had to pull up.
A policeman told me that I had operated a video device while driving a vehicle, which under the Canadian law is an offence. Then he proceeded listing all devices you’re not allowed to touch while driving, like mobile phones, GPSs, and so on.
Of course it is a violation in Canada. For what it matters, those are also violations in both the country I was raised in and in the one I live. But I made sure I avoided telling him this, and decided to play the role of the uninformed stranger.
Don’t take anything for granted while abroad
This is a typical example of a country way-of-doing-things applied to another country. A very typical consequence of such narrow-minded thinking is getting fines.
I’m sure that many among those who have moved to another country or have just been abroad for some time know what I’m talking about.
Once I was also fined in Switzerland for just disposing of garbage in a way I thought to be completely proper, an episode which beat me hard with culture shock.
In case you are wondering how much I paid as fine, that was $0.
The situation started to get complicated (for him) when he noted that my passport and my driver’s license belonged to two different countries. Then he tried to read my Swiss residency permit. Only, it was written in German.
Eventually, as soon as he learned my car was a rental, I could clearly read on his face “oh no, all those papers to fill out again!”
He left me with a verbal reprimand and the promise that next time… etcetera.
With a more serious tone, I have to make clear that the guy was very nice and polite. Therefore I’d like to thank Canadian police for being professional and merciful with me.