Unpaid fines? Government is coming after you (Ontario,Canada)

Ten years after a family member used this person’s name while driving because of that person’s own drivers license was suspended, to their surprise they received a letter just last week notifying them without warning that their license is suspended until fines are paid. They went downtown to check it out, got a print out and had it paid. Total fines $1400 (3 tickets and a reinstatement fee). They had two options, to re-open file and report it or pay it. Luckily a family member intervened and paid it.

You have unpaid fines from many years ago, the government is coming after you and without warning to pay up.

Now that persons record is tainted with a suspension and when it comes to insurance renewal their insurance rates will go up.

Ontario needs tougher penalties — such as seizing cars and income tax refunds — to deal with the $1 billion in unpaid fines from traffic tickets and provincial offences such as driving without insurance over the years.

That was the push Wednesday from the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards after completing a 26-page white paper on the problem at the request of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s administration.

About $300 million is owed to the City of Toronto, now desperately looking for ways to raise revenue and cut costs.

With governments at all levels facing a cash crunch, the money from scofflaws is needed to pay for programs and to ensure justice is not undermined, said Alok Mukherjee, president of the association representing civilian police boards across the province.

“Our estimate is that the collectable amount is in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said at Queen’s Park.

Toronto is due $36 million from 2009 alone — part of $100 million in province-wide fines in default that year and enough to cover the projected shortfall in the 2012 TTC budget, the white paper says.

For 2009, charts in the report show York and Durham regions are each owed almost $4 million, Brampton $5 million and Mississauga $2 million.

One-third of fines are simply not paid after conviction and action is “long overdue,” added Mukherjee, noting the problem rose “exponentially” after responsibility for collecting fines was downloaded to municipalities by the province in the late 1990s.

He called for improved tools for collecting fines, including incentives such as discounts for early payments, doubling late-payment penalties and better sharing of information between the Transportation Ministry and the Ministry of the Attorney General on who is paying up.

“The biggest bang for the buck would be the denial of licence plate stickers,” said Fred Kaustinen, executive director of the police association.

“A cop doesn’t have to wait for an infraction to stop that person. They can stop them by seeing that the plate is out of date . . . It’s already linked to not paying your 407 bill to a private company. Certainly we could do that enforcement tool for a whole range of serious public safety infractions.”

Licence plate suspensions are effective but are limited to unpaid red light camera fines, unpaid tolls, some unpaid parking tickets, and fees and interest for Highway 407.

McGuinty agreed a fix is needed, particularly given that governments are facing tough economic times.

“That’s an important conversation that I can certainly say from my perspective we’d like to have,” he said after touring the Eglinton LRT construction site with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

“It’s going to be very important that we look for ways to ensure that any money owing to us is, in fact, being paid. And that’s for all levels of government I’m sure.”

Jim Wilson, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Simcoe-Grey, said municipalities “absolutely” need more powers to collect because offenders know “the current system is so weak.”

“It shouldn’t come to the point where police boards are screaming at you,” Wilson added.

Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli said it is “very, very difficult” to collect money from some people because they have moved — sometimes out of Ontario. That points to the need for changes in the province’s information technology systems to get the right data to the right people, he said.

“It’s a serious issue that’s being raised, and it needs serious attention, and it’s probably going to need a very serious solution.”

The $1 billion in outstanding fines includes:

$354.4 million for driving without auto insurance, invalid insurance or failing to produce an insurance card upon request

$314.6 million for Highway Traffic Act offences

$52.6 million for offences under the Liquor Licence Act

$41.8 million for breaking various municipal bylaws

$20.9 million for Occupational Health and Safety Act offences

$19.2 million for offences under the Trespass to Property Act

Who owes the money?

Ontarians: $870.5 million (91 per cent)

Other Canadians: $34 million

Americans: $18.4 million

Other foreigners: $1.6 million

Unknown: $29.8 million

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