A man described as "the face of homelessness in Brandon" has been fined $1 and banned from driving after the truck that served as his home was seized.
Ray Vincent Corkum received the fine after pleading guilty to driving without a licence — an offence that resulted from his struggle with poverty and homelessness, his lawyer said.
"Not only is Mr. Corkum guilty of driving without a licence … as a result of his guilty plea, he is guilty of being homeless," Corkum’s lawyer, Patrick Sullivan said in Brandon court on Thursday. "Mr. Corkum is the face of homelessness in Brandon."
Corkum, a former school bus driver, was featured in mid-December in a CBC story about the working poor. The story details how Corkum, who worked part-time, lived in a freight trailer after his truck was seized.
The 65-year-old appeared in court on Thursday. He faced numerous counts under the Highway Traffic Act but pleaded guilty to a single count of driving without a licence on Oct. 24, an offence laid by RM of Cornwallis police, and all but one of the other charges were dropped.
Corkum intends to challenge a Sept. 23 trespassing charge, also laid by Cornwallis police.
Crown attorney Yaso Mathu described events surrounding the driving without a licence charge.
An RM of Cornwallis constable was dealing with another traffic violator when a passing motorist stopped and alerted him to a suspicious man and vehicle in the area.
The motorist said the man had approached a business in search of gas, but when he was turned away he walked to a truck parked by the side of the highway.
The man, who the witness said seemed to notice police parked nearby, then drove the truck across a ditch and parked in a field beside some bushes.
The truck didn’t have licence plates on it, the witness told the police.
The Cornwallis officer found the truck parked where the witness described, and as he approached he recognized a man known to him as a "habitual unlicenced driver."
The officer confirmed that there was no plate at the back of the truck. The truck’s driver, Corkum, admitted he didn’t have a licence and said he couldn’t get insurance as he still owed money for the truck.
Corkum was arrested for not having a licence and other charges.
Mathu said Corkum has a five-page driver’s record with 33 various convictions logged between March 2009 to April 2013. They range from driving without a licence, to driving without insurance and driving an unregistered vehicle.
As a result, Mathu said, Corkum has unpaid fines that total $6,169.90. Corkum would say he couldn’t pay his fines because he had no job and no money, or he’d offer to make partial payments that wouldn’t be made.
"Mr. Corkum is presenting as a sympathetic character, saying that he was homeless and living in his vehicle at certain times and saying that he doesn’t have money to pay his fines," Mathu said. "I don’t doubt, your honour, that all of that was true at certain times of his life.
"However, we have had this unlicenced and uninsured gentleman continue to drive on our highways for the last five years, and on top of that all of the vehicles he seems to drive are unregistered."
With fines acting as no deterrent, Mathu asked Judge Shauna Hewitt-Michta to impose a nominal fine and suspend Corkum’s licence for a year. That way, Mathu said, Corkum would face a possibility of jail if he chooses to drive illegally again.
Sullivan detailed Corkum’s struggle with homelessness for the court.
Corkum lost his home in 2009, and between that time and 2013 he was living in his vehicle.
He earned $9 per hour at part time work as he could find it. He had a hard time maintaining employment without a driver’s licence and place to live.
Corkum would arrange to park his vehicle on private property and would live in it, filling it with gas so he could run the motor and keep warm.
That’s not an offence, Sullivan said. It is an offence to operate a motor vehicle without a licence, insurance or plates on a highway. But Sullivan said the majority of the charges that Corkum faced, and were dropped, involved incidents that weren’t on a highway as defined by the Highway Traffic Act.
Sullivan said he suspects his client amassed his fines at a time when he was moving his vehicle, his home, from spot to spot once he’d outworn his welcome. It was impossible for Corkum to pay for vehicle insurance or his driver’s licence.
"He was not failing to pay his fines because he was living a lavish lifestyle. He wasnt spending that money on alcohol or otherwise," Sullivan said.
Nevertheless, Corkum did plead guilty to the single driving without a licence charge, although the defence account differed from that of the Crown.
Sullivan said Corkum sat in the driver’s seat while having his vehicle pushed less than a kilometre to its new location in a ditch. Corkum spent a night in jail after his arrest because he had no fixed address.
His truck, his home, was impounded and he wasn’t able to get it out. With nowhere to live, he stayed outside, and when December came he would sleep in the back of freight trailers.
In the CBC report, Corkum describes how his blankets would freeze to the floor of the trailer.
In court, Sullivan revealed that he’s since helped find Corkum a low-rent place to live as he continues to work part time. Corkum said he’s now paying $50 per month toward his fines.
Even though it’s unlikely Corkum will be allowed a licence given his driving record, Sullivan asked Hewitt-Michta not impose a driving ban — it’s not necessary as Corkum no longer needs to move his vehicle place to place.
But, while she said she had sympathy for Corkum’s previous homelessness, Hewitt-Michta added it doesn’t justify repeatedly driving without a licence.
"It doesn’t matter, Mr. Corkum, what your personal circumstances are… if you don’t have a licence, you can’t drive a vehicle. If the vehicle is not registered, you can’t drive the vehicle," Hewitt-Michta said.
She agreed with Mathu’s suggestion and fined Corkum $1 and banned him from driving for one year.
That means, if he’s caught driving in the next year he will be charged under the Criminal Code.
"Please don’t drive for the next year, because I don’t want to have to put you in jail," Hewitt-Michta said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 29, 2014