It’s shocking when the stories make the news — people in trouble with the law owing tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines.
From outstanding parking tickets, speeding tickets, uninsured vehicles or fines for criminal offences, it’s a growing problem in this province.
One of the latest cases certainly reflects that.
Bradley Theodore O’Toole, pulled over earlier this month for a traffic offence, was found by police to owe close to $160,000 for a 2008 contraband tobacco conviction years ago.
It’s a problem that’s sparking outrage from members of the public, who wonder how that’s even possible and why these offenders aren’t in jail.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said government recognizes it’s a big issue and is determined to find a solution.
“You see it in news and it bothers everyone, “ Parsons told The Telegram. “It bothers me as a taxpayer and certainly as a minister.”
The good news is that 80 per cent of people pay their citations voluntarily, he said.
The bad news is that the 20 per cent who don’t have racked upwards of close to $37 million in unpaid fines.
“It blew me away when I heard (that figure) as well,” Parsons said.
Some outstanding debts have been sitting there since the early ’80s, he said, by people who have just don’t have the financial means to pay or those who “put their head in the sand” and just ignore them, hoping they’ll go away.
“It’s a pet peeve of mine. I need to just ask my staff how often I bring it up. I want to go after these people, find out how to get the money or get some other penalty for transgressing.”
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons
The department’s fines and administration division, which handles the process of collection, can work with individuals to have a payment plan put in place for those who can’t settle the fines in a lump sum, Parsons said. The government can also request to have wages garnished and property seized, he said.
“The problem is, there are people just slipping through the crack because they have no income to garnish and no property,” he said. “So, what do we do?”
Jail is not a feasible option, he said.
Her Majesty’s Penitentiary is already at capacity. Plus, it costs about $110,000 annually to jail one person, he said.
Driving prohibitions and seizing vehicles also don’t seem to work — police still catch violators behind the wheel. More fines are handed out, but only add to the ones already accumulated.
“It’s a pet peeve of mine. I need to just ask my staff how often I bring it up,” Parsons said. “I want to go after these people, find out how to get the money or get some other penalty for transgressing.”
And he has a “creative way” of doing just that.
The concept involves people paying by providing community service.
The fine details have not yet been worked out, but he said it’s a plan he hopes to make happen.
“We’re working on it, but it’s not easy. You have to find the (community service) work for these people to do,” said Parsons.
There would be a cost to implementing the program and government would need to look at partnering with various community organizations and businesses to make it work, he said.
“If the solution was simple, the problem would have been solved a long time ago,” Parsons said. The problem exists across the country, he added.
“But I’m personally motivated to come up with some kind of solution. When I was in opposition, I asked about this. Now, it’s high priority.”