Government takes outstanding fines seriously

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I am writing in response to an editorial in The Telegram from Jan. 25 titled “Blood and turnip” which discusses the latest report of the auditor general as it relates to the fines administration division and efforts to collect outstanding fines.

I thank the auditor general for the work he does on behalf of residents of the province and for putting a spotlight on this important issue. I would, though, like to address some of the points raised in Saturday’s editorial.

The $34.6 million referenced in the auditor general’s report is a cumulative total that includes all outstanding fines, including driving related fines, some of which go back decades. Each year, 80 per cent of fines are paid voluntarily but unfortunately there will always be a few who continue to flout the law in accumulating fines and in refusing to pay the money that they owe.

The article leaves the impression that we do not have an arrangement with the Canada Revenue Agency to collect money that is owed.

In fact, we entered into an agreement in 2009 that allows us to intercept income tax refunds for unpaid fines. In 2012-2013, $1.1 million was collected under this arrangement.

The issue raised by the auditor general related to the Canada Revenue Agency was around whether we should use this collection method for balances that are under $400.

This option is currently under consideration.

We also garnish wages where possible once a judgment has been obtained at Supreme Court and registered on the Judgment Enforcement Registry. Residents are also unable to register a vehicle or renew a driver’s licence unless their outstanding fines are paid or an arrangement for payment is made.

As noted by the auditor general, a small percentage of the population owes a significant amount of the outstanding fines. We know who these people are, however many of the offenders have unpublished phone numbers, have no fixed address, are incarcerated, have low or no employment history or no credit history. If the person owing the fines does not have a driver’s licence, is not employed and does not own any property, it is a significant challenge to have them pay what is owed.

This issue is not unique to Newfoundland and Labrador, as all jurisdictions in Canada deal with similar problems. In fact, I read recently that Ontario has as much as $1 billion in outstanding fines on its books.

Let me assure the public that the Department of Justice has not simply “thrown its hands in the air” as is suggested in the editorial.

Employees in the Fines Administration Division do an exceptional job in their efforts to collect the money that is owed to the province, and legislation has been changed in recent years to provide them with new methods to collect that money.

The Department of Justice is certainly open to exploring new ways to collect the outstanding fines, but any new method must benefit the province.

One suggestion is to have people work off their debt through a fine-options program.

It would take significant administrative work to establish and run such a program that would involve using resources from multiple areas of the Department of Justice. Having said that, we have not closed the door on fine-options programs as a means to eliminate some of the outstanding fines and we will explore this suggestion further.

Police in the province will continue to charge people with offences under the Highway Traffic Act and other legislation.

I can assure the public that the Department of Justice will make every effort to collect fines, including from those few who continue to ignore the laws by refusing to pay what is owed.

 

Darin King is the province’s minister of justice.

Organizations: Canada Revenue Agency, Department of Justice, Supreme Court Fines Administration Division

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Dolf
    January 31, 2014 - 13:59

    In the name of God, seize the vehicler on the spot and auction the s.o.b.. Keep doing that and those who loan these miscreants their vehicles will get the message...right fast! Ne4ver mind "we're looking at it", just do it!

    • Law and Order
      February 01, 2014 - 22:59

      Very good idea!

    • John
      February 03, 2014 - 10:53

      May I also suggest, the we have the names and photos of these people posted so that (1) the general public will be able to identify and reort them if seen driving ... and (2) possibly shame theses people, if it is at all possible.

  • david
    January 31, 2014 - 13:12

    Darin King: you need to replace some of that gall with a healthy dose of shame. The state of affairs on this issue reflects nothing but 1) contempt for the safety of the public, 2) complete disrespect for the hard-earned money that your government over-confiscates to allow these criminals to enjoy free financing of their selfish lives, and 3) a complete disregard for one of the few remaining tenets of an actual civilized society left outside the Avalon. And if this is taking $35 million dollars "seriously", then I just can't wait to see how Muskrat Falls turns out and at what cost.

  • Hank
    January 31, 2014 - 08:58

    Those people owing thousands of dollars in fines to the courts, is making a laughing stock of the police, The police see them driving the roads daily, They owe thousands of dollars in tickets, why pull them over and give them thousands more? Its the courts that are falling behind, Their motto was "Pay The fine Or Do The Time " Its The unlucky driver of the other car that they hit with no insurance ? they are driving car not registered owing thousands in traffic fines, WHO TAKES THE LOSS ?

  • Collector
    January 31, 2014 - 08:37

    It would not hurt to send out an updated list to the police all over the province and also post the names on a web site so the public can see it. It would not take long for the public to get involved to help locate these people who owe fines. |It might also enlighten people as to who is really driving around their community without a licence. It is difficult for the government to collect these fines as these people are basically criminals and try at al cost to avoid being caught.

  • Ken Collis
    January 31, 2014 - 06:37

    How about allowing those who owe money the opportunity to work off the fines voluntarily. The person can be sent to their local council, for instance, and be given a shovel to dig out fire hydrants, a fake to look after the grass in parks, or any other work they can do and their account could be credited at the same rate the council pays general labor. Of course the provincial govt. wouldn't see actual cash but the tax payers would still benefit, and you never know, Some of these folks might show a good work ethic and end up getting hired full time. It seems to me the administration costs for this would not be too big.