Province struggling to nab offenders who don’t pay
The provincial government is looking to draw up a dirty dozen list of deadbeat offenders when it comes to tens of thousands of dollars owed in traffic fines. But as long as you’re driving a car with out-of-province plates, don’t worry; the province has no way of tracking you down.
Traffic makes its way up Commonwealth Avenue in Mount Pearl. The RNC will help the province track down drivers who owe tens of thousands in fines starting in the fall.
— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Virginia English, director of fines administration for the provincial government, said hopefully by this fall, the police will be on the lookout for the worst of the worst — the people in the province who owe huge amounts for driving illegally.
Part of the problem with collecting fines from those drivers, English said, is that sometimes it’s just impossible to track them down.
She said that many of the serial offenders are people with no fixed address, no bank account, no easy way for the authorities to get in touch.
English was in the House of Assembly Wednesday morning alongside Heather Jacobs, assistant deputy minister in the Department of Justice.
The public accounts committee wanted to know what was being done to address massive outstanding fines — some people owe tens of thousands of dollars, and in total there’s around $33 million on the books owed to the province.
What the committee members heard was a raft of problems that prevent better enforcement.
For starters, if you’re driving a car with plates from another province, or from the U.S., you can speed, park illegally, and rack up traffic fines with impunity. Because the government doesn’t have reciprocal agreements with any other provinces, they can issue a ticket to you, but there’s absolutely no way of collecting it.
Also, because the computer system in the fines section can’t talk to the other computer systems, it limits the options available to punish deadbeat drivers.
Even if you owe tens of thousands of dollars, the government can’t easily deny you a moose licence, because the fines administration computer can’t talk to the wildlife division computer.
And when it comes to the serious repeat offenders, there’s the issue of finding them in the first place.
That’s where the RNC comes in. English said that this fall the police will be given a list of names as a pilot project, to hopefully track those people down. She said even if it’s just a matter of getting in touch with those people to establish that there’s zero chance they’ll ever get paid, then at least the government can just write off those debts.
One way that the government could likely increase enforcement is to hire more enforcement is to hire more enforcement officers.
Back in 2003, when the government was trying to save money to reduce the deficit, two enforcement officers were laid off. In that year, revenue from fines dropped by around $600,000 — which means that the government actually lost more money than it saved by laying off the enforcement officers.
“It’s being penny-wise but pound-foolish,” Liberal MHA Tom Osborne said. “Why those two individuals were laid off is beyond me. I think it was a bad decision.”
Justice Minister Terry French said they’ve replaced one of those positions, and hindsight is 20-20.
“However, I will tell you that when we formed government there was, like, one collection officer,” French said. “We took it from one to eight. We got into some tight times ourselves, and there was tough decisions that had to be made. We cut it back two, but we’ve since then put one position back.”
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