Days after B.C. announced it was more than doubling COVID-19 fines for those breaking public health orders by attending or even promoting events, the province is looking at new ways to collect the outstanding cash mounting from unpaid tickets.
Between Aug. 21, 2020 and March 19 of this year, more than $1.1 million in fines were issued to alleged COVID-19 scofflaws in B.C. – but only about 11 per cent of the pandemic violations processed by ICBC to date – have been paid.
“We are not going to let it drop,” vowed Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.
Over the last seven months, 1,525 provincial violations worth $920,000 in fines have been handed out: 229 $2,300 tickets to owners or organizers contravening the ban on gatherings and events, 46 $2,300 tickets to those violating the food and liquor serving order, and 1,250 tickets to individuals refusing to wear masks or not complying with law enforcement.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, police agencies in B.C. have also issued 118 violation tickets worth $185,495 in fines to those flouting the federal Quarantine Act.
Alleged offenders have 30 days to dispute or pay the fines before being deemed guilty.
ICBC sends unpaid provincial tickets directly to collections as soon as the initial 30-day payment or dispute period ends, or after a recipient is found guilty in court.
But it hasn’t been easy for the province to collect on the $1,105,495 in total fines.
As of March 20, ICBC is processing 1,074 provincial COVID-19 tickets that amount to $748,085 in fines.
Eighteen-and-a-half per cent of the tickets have been paid while 38 per cent are being disputed, another 38 per cent have been deemed guilty, and 5.5 per cent have either been cancelled, deemed not guilty, or are still in progress. Eighty-eight per cent of total fines or $661,529, is still owing.
When it comes to Quarantine Act violations, only nine per cent or 12 of 129 tickets, have been paid, 36 per cent are in dispute, 13 per cent have been deemed guilty, while 42 per cent have either been cancelled, deemed not guilty, or are still in progress – leaving 90 per cent of total fines or $151,293, unpaid.
Of the $916,078 in total COVID-19 fines processed by ICBC to date, just over 11 per cent have been paid – with $812, 822 outstanding.
“It will require the government to take steps in order to actually collect the fine dollars,” criminal lawyer Sarah Leamon told Global News.
If a COVID-19 fine is not paid once sent to collections, ICBC said it may take additional measures including garnishing wages or assets, placing liens on property, or going to court to seize personal assets.
“When they go to court or to get garnishing orders or to even seize property, it is going to be a difficult process for them,” Leamon said.
“And one that may be hard-fought for them to actually undertake.”
Leamon expects that the collection rate for traffic tickets in B.C. would be significantly higher. Unlike COVID-19 violations, traffic fines must be paid off before renewing your driver’s licence or vehicle insurance.
Farnworth said the province is considering holding driver’s licence renewals back in exchange for payment of COVID-19 fines.
“The overwhelming majority of people in this province do have driver’s licences,” Farnworth told Global News.
“If we can use it as a tool to collect unpaid fines related to COVID, it’s certainly something that we are investigating.”
Farnworth stressed that if the B.C. government decides to hold COVID-19 fines against driver’s licences, the method would be used as a collection tool only, and not as a punitive measure.
The province is expected to announce further measures to collect outstanding pandemic fines in the coming weeks.
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