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Is flicking a sunflower seed littering? Winnipeg police think so

07/14/2015 12:40 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 05:59 EDT
A man visiting from New Zealand learned the expensive way that discarded sunflower seed shells are considered litter in Winnipeg.

David Watt was driving last Thursday on the Moray Street bridge and eating sunflower seeds, flicking the empty shells out the sunroof of his car, when he heard a police siren chirp.

He looked out the rear-view mirror and saw an officer waving him over to the shoulder of the road.

Watt, who didn't know why he was being stopped, handed over his New Zealand licence and said the officer asked him what he was doing in Winnipeg "like I was a criminal or something."

"I just said I'm visiting friends," said Watt, who is originally from Winnipeg and now living in Wellington.

"He said, 'well I pulled you over because you're littering. You're throwing things out of your sunroof.' I said it was a sunflower seed and he said it doesn't matter, it was litter."

Watt happened to have some seeds in his mouth at the moment and didn't want to be spitting saliva while trying to speak with the officer, so he spit them out, drawing more ire from the officer.

"He said, 'what did I just tell you? Don't flick things out of the sunroof.'"

When the officer went back to the police cruiser to write up the ticket, Watt realized he should probably call the friend he was meeting, to let them know he'd be late. But Watt was worried he's get another ticket if he used his phone in the car.

"I got out of the vehicle and went to the front of my car. I didn't want to walk towards him like I was trying to intimidate him," he said. "Well he got out of the car, he's yelling at me, 'get back into your car!'

"I told him I need to make a phone call and he said, 'you don't need to phone anybody; when the police stop you, you do not get out of your car.' He's just screaming at me. He was not very nice. He was angry at something.

"He was very, very intimidating and I couldn't believe it was over a sunflower seed."

After being given the ticket and being advised of the date he should appear in court if he wanted to appeal it, Watt noticed he'd no longer be in the city at that time.

"I said 'wait, wait', but he wouldn't stop," Watt said.

The next day he went to the police district station "to get this settled" and was told that once the ticket is written it can't be changed.

Still bewildered by the ticket, Watt asked the sergeant on duty if sunflower seeds are considered litter.

"He said, 'I don't know what the officer saw so I can't comment,'" Watt said. "Nobody can tell me if sunflower seeds are actually littering. I looked in the by-law traffic act [and] it describes cigarette butts, nails, glass, something that could damage a vehicle or hurt a person. Those are all listed but sunflower seeds aren't listed."

Watt then visited the courthouse downtown to plead guilty with explanation but was told he can't do that outside of the dates written on his ticket.

"I'm trying to settle this but I'm not getting any help. Starting with this angry cop that wouldn't wait for when I had some questions, to the sergeant at the courts office. Nobody will solve this before I leave," he said.

"We're here for a vacation, so I want to resolve this and get on with the vacation and make everyone happy. I'm trying. It's my vacation and I'm down at the courts office but nobody wants to help."

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