Ontario drivers owe $1B in traffic tickets

Red-light runners and other traffic offenders owe more than $1-billion in unpaid fines.

That’s because it is far easier to skip out on a speeding fine in Ontario than it is a municipal parking ticket or overdue Hwy. 407 bill, police officials say.

Alok Mukherjee, president of the Ontario Association of Police Service Boards (OAPSB), met with the province’s justice ministers Monday to ask for more effective enforcement tools to collect provincial traffic fines.

“Unless the consequences create a deterrent, there’s no incentive for people to pay,” he said.

As of June 30, 2009, the outstanding uncollected provincial fines across Ontario added up to just over $1 billion.

The fines were meted out for a variety of offences such as speeding, running a red light and failing to yield to traffic.

Mukherjee said the careless drivers came from within Ontario, the United States and neighbouring provinces.

A driver from another province, for instance, could get speeding tickets all along Hwy. 401 and just keep going.

“How is anyone to collect those?” he said.

Mukherjee, who is also chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, said the OAPSB has been asked by Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci to prepare a white paper on the subject.

Henry Jensen, a first vice-president with OAPSB and member of the Ottawa Police Services Board, said the fines began mounting after the implementation of the Charter of Rights because justice officials could no longer issue arrest warrants for unpaid traffic fines.

Jensen said the province needs to act because taxpayers are losing out on significant revenue.

“That means that your tax bill is going to be up as a consequence,” he said.

If a citizen fails to pay a parking ticket, the local municipality can ensure that licence plate renewal is denied.

Ignoring a toll bill for the privately-run Hwy. 407 will land a driver in the same difficulty.

Jensen said a similar provision for provincial offences should be implemented or police should regain the right to issue arrest warrants.

Ontario should also enter into agreements with neighbouring provinces and states to enforce each other’s fines, he said.

Police officers in some U.S. jurisdictions can collect speeding fines right on the spot ‹ and that may work here as well, Jensen said.

Attorney General Chris Bentley said he’s always concerned when people can avoid paying their fines ‹ both from a taxpayer and law enforcement perspective.

“It’s a heck of a lot of money,” Bentley said.

The Ontario government’s recent “good government” bill did address fine enforcement.

According to the Attorney General’s ministry, municipalities may now add defaulted provincial offence fines to municipal property tax rolls.

Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne said she’ll be working with her fellow cabinet ministers to determine if there is more the government can to do to whittle away the unpaid fine backlog.

“It’s unacceptable, obviously,” Wynne said.