Dave Balay admits he's guilty of having a small crack in his licence. But he doesn't think the penalty fits the crime.

He was returning home from visiting a friend Wednesday evening when he was pulled over on Anthony Henday Drive.

"I saw the police lights come on behind, and so I thought I'd pull over to the side to give them room to pass," Balay said. "Because I wasn't doing anything untoward.

"But then the police, of course, pulled in behind me."

Dave Balay's Honda Accord

Dave Balay says he was driving this Honda Accord the evening he was pulled over. (Dave Balay)

One of the officers told Balay they'd had a tip about a swerving car that matched the description of his Honda Accord. Balay, 52, said he wasn't worried because he doesn't drink.

He gave the officer his driver's licence, registration and insurance card.

'I didn't even know there was such a thing'

"He came back, and the younger policeman said he was going to give me a ticket for my driver's licence being mutilated," said Balay.

"I said, 'Mutilated? I didn't even know there was such a thing.' Then he gave me a ticket for $465."

The mutilation referred to was a crack in the top left corner of Balay's licence.

"Maybe not even quite an inch long," said Balay, adding the crack doesn't obstruct any pertinent information.

Balay said he was expecting a fine of about $150.

Ticket

Dave Balay showed CBC News the $465 ticket he got for having a cracked driver's licence.

"I think I outright laughed, and said, 'Seriously? Four-hundred-and-sixty-five bucks for this crack?' [The officer] said, 'It's a mutilated licence.'

"If I'd been belligerent or angry, or even had been smelling like booze or anything like that, then I could see them getting upset. But none of that was the case."

Edmonton police released a statement Friday suggesting the officer actually gave Balay a break.

According to the statement, the officer had grounds to lay a careless driving charge, which carries a fine of $543 and six demerit points. But because Balay was co-operative, the officer issued a lesser fine for a cracked driver's licence.  

To put the fine in perspective, someone caught looking at their cellphone while driving could expect a distracted driving ticket for $287.

'I didn't do anything to the licence'

Balay is also confused by the term "mutilated."

"I didn't do anything to the licence myself," he said, "other than carry it in my wallet in my back pocket.

"Had I scratched out my eyes or drawn a mustache on my face, or scratched out the licence number or something, then, yeah, give me a ticket for that. That should be an offence."

Balay vented his frustration in a humorous video he posted to Facebook. It has been shared more than 7,000 times and has had more than 400,000 views.

"I think 99 per cent positive reaction," said Balay. "Way more than I expected."

In the video, Balay said he won't pay the fine, even if that means serving jail time or community service. 

"I don't have $465," he said. "I'm on unemployment insurance and I do some part-time substitute teaching, supply teacher. It's a week's wage."

Balay hopes to reason with the Crown prosecutor and avoid going to court.

"Common sense would say I would just go and get a new one and not get charged with anything,"he said. "I'll even pay for the cost of replacing the licence myself."

According to the police department statement, "should the driver choose not to pay the fine, it will be up to the Crown and the courts to determine whether or not this charge was appropriate; therefore the EPS can't offer further comment on this incident."

'This is so unusual'

In a text message to CBC News, Balay called the EPS statement absurd.

"This is so unusual," he wrote, "for them to release a statement like that, saying they are basically doing me a favour by charging me for something that according to the traffic safety act I didn't even violate.

"If we as a society allow them to do that, then we are basically giving them the go-ahead to charge us with whatever their little hearts desire."

Highway Traffic Act

Section 61 of the Alberta Highway Traffic Act spells out the law Dave Balay was charged under.