Hundreds of B.C. drivers are being denied vehicle insurance every year after thieves steal their identities and rack up fines and police fail to check the impersonators' driver's licences carefully when issuing tickets.
"The injustice appalls me," Vancouver identity theft victim Katrina Wutke said.
The government-owned Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) told CBC News that 1,300 B.C. drivers apply each year to get the improperly issued tickets cancelled. In B.C., drivers with outstanding fines are not allowed to renew vehicle insurance or driver's licences until those debts are cleared.
Wutke said she spent six months in a maze of ICBC bureaucracy, trying to clear her driving record, after a thief produced her stolen driver's licence when stopped by the police for a traffic violation.
"So many times the ball has been dropped, by so many different government organizations now, that I just have no faith whatsoever in this ridiculous system," Wutke said.
She said her B.C. driver's licence was stolen five years ago, along with her wallet. She reported the theft to police, she said, but heard nothing more.
Police officer didn't check stolen licence
Records show that last March 2, a Vancouver police officer issued a $121 traffic ticket to a woman who produced Wutke's expired driver's licence and was driving a rental car that had been reported stolen. The police officer issued a citation for failing to obey a traffic sign and allowed her to drive away.
Wutke has since obtained a copy of the ticket, which shows the officer failed to tick off the boxes indicating he had checked the licence's issue date and expiry date, which are clearly marked on the front of every B.C. licence.
"My driver's licence wasn't run. Had they run it, they would have realized that there is a more recently issued driver's licence and that the one that he obtained from her should be void and you know — red flags," Wutke said.
Wutke said she's been informed by police in B.C. and Ontario that the stolen car has since been recovered, but her identity has since been used in at least two more thefts of rental vehicles.
Wutke said the thieves have also taken out several credit cards. She estimated at least $120,000 worth of goods and services has been charged to her name.
"If she'd [the thief] been stopped, at least that driver's licence, which is what is being used to rent all of these cars, would have been revoked and other crimes could have been prevented," she said.
CBC News asked the Vancouver Police Department several times for an interview about the matter. VPD spokesperson Laurel Kennedy refused to speak on the subject and said no one else was available.
'The cops blame it on ICBC and ICBC blames... the Vancouver police' — ID theft victim Katrina Wutke
"Unfortunately, we don't have someone that has the appropriate information. It would be erroneous of us to put somebody up," Kennedy said.
Wutke said ICBC has been telling her for six months that she can't get insurance until the $121 dollar ticket is cleared. Wutke said she filed ICBC's required impersonation reports on three separate occasions, only to be told — repeatedly — that her claim has not yet been processed.
Spokesperson Adam Grossman said ICBC has little control over how long it takes to process impersonation forms. He said ICBC sends them to the police agency or transit authority involved, where the ticket can be cancelled — if the issuing officer admits a mistake was made.
System 'appalling,' victim says
"It's appalling that this is our system. This is how things are run," Wutke said. "[They say] they will get back to me. They will call me. That everything's almost closed up on this end, my file is just about to be complete. It's been an incredible waste of time on a multitude of levels."
Wutke is adamant that she will not pay the charge herself, even though that would clear it up.
"I'm not about to pay that ticket — plead guilty — so they are off the hook for their errors," she said.
Wutke runs her own veterinary assistance business, administering medication and home care to animals. She needs her vehicle for work and estimates her income has dropped by one-third in recent months because she can't use her vehicle to get to appointments.
"I'm in debt to family and friends who have had to help me out paying my rent."
Only issuing officer can cancel ticket: ICBC
The impersonation claim "goes to the issuing officer of the ticket and the issuing officer is the only person who can cancel that ticket," the ICBC's Grossman said.
He said one-third of impersonation claims filed in 2008 resulted in tickets being cancelled. That's approximately 400 violations acknowledged to have been mistakenly issued to the wrong person by police or transit authorities across the province.
ICBC's "driver impersonation claim instructions" form reads, "This is a police investigation and normally takes eight to 10 weeks to be completed."
However, Grossman said processing time depends on the case, and 55 per cent of the 1,300 claims filed in 2008 have yet to be resolved. Wutke filed her first impersonation report in August.
"There's no reason why this customer would have had to fill out the impersonation claim more than once. That shouldn't happen," Grossman said
"We don't want to hear about people getting tickets that were incorrectly issued to them, so that's why we have this process in place to help them."
He added, "Certainly when any ticket is given out for a traffic violation, we certainly would like to see that the officer is looking at all the details in front of them."
"The cops blame it on ICBC and ICBC blames it on the Vancouver Police Department," Wutke said.
In the meantime, Wutke is facing an additional ticket for $250 — because, she said, she had no choice but to leave her vehicle parked on the street without valid plates.
"They've considered it an abandoned vehicle because the insurance has expired," Wutke said. "It's never ending. It just feels like it's never ending."
After being interviewed by CBC News, Grossman said ICBC located Wutke's latest impersonation form — from a pile in its office — and sent it off to Vancouver police. He said Wutke is now cleared to buy insurance.
"Funny how public embarrassment can have people accountable for their errors," Wutke responded.
Wutke was also contacted by RCMP in North Vancouver, who told her that her stolen driver's licence had been recovered but there wasn't enough evidence to lay charges against the person involved.
"These items were not actually found on the person that was arrested, though we do believe he did have possession of them," Const. Amber Carlson wrote.
"It's something that needs to seriously be addressed," Wutke said. "Obviously, the message that we are getting out there to these criminals who are in this business is go for it. You will get away with it."