Canadian motorists who think they can ignore old speeding or parking tickets shouldn't get too comfortable.
Tickets from years past can come back to haunt scofflaw drivers in the form of much higher fines.
"We have some people we have been going after who have in excess of 50 outstanding tickets," says Steve Jackson, executive-director of the claims and recoveries program of the Alberta Justice Department.
'Whether it's a civil matter, a ticket matter, a criminal matter, it's gonna catch up to you.' —Pietro Macera, bailiff, City of Montreal
Jackson says his department tracks down unpaid fines that are more than one year old and registers the offender with the Canada Revenue Agency.
"We're allowed to intercept their income tax refunds and the GST rebates."
Jackson says he's gone after offenders across Canada and the United States and advised them their income tax return will be redirected until their outstanding debt is settled.
"You could have people who are living in the U.S. temporarily who are still deemed to be Canadian and are filing Canadian income taxes," he said.
Jackson noted that one motorist had 57 outstanding tickets over a five-year period which included speeding, driving an unregistered vehicle and driving with a suspended licence. The man was eventually incarcerated when authorities caught up with him.
Jackson recalled another case last year when a father came in to pay his daughter's fines, which totalled more than $5,000.
Ticket rules differ depending on province
Pietro Macera, a bailiff who collects unpaid fines for the City of Montreal, says a five-year statute of limitations on outstanding fines can be renewed.
"Whether it's a civil matter, a ticket matter, a criminal matter, it's gonna catch up to you," he said in an interview with the Canadian Press.
Macera, 50, says any unpaid fines will stay in a town or city's computer system.
"So you're driving and you get grabbed by the police for speeding, or a red light, or a burned-out light – well that day is not your lucky day, especially if you've ignored that $100 speeding ticket."
Macera says the ticket can end up costing $500 with court costs and other fees that have been tacked on along the way.
In some courts in Nova Scotia, motorists who require extensions to pay a fine will appear before a justice of the peace to discuss payment options.
But if a fine is past due and without payment for six months, it will be referred automatically to Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations for collection action.
There are no extensions on fines that have been referred for collection and a motorist can't renew his licence or registration until the outstanding fine is paid up.
Ontario drivers may pay twice
In Ontario, some motorists have even ended up paying twice.
Rolly Riopel runs POINTTS, a Barrie, Ont., firm that provides legal representation for people who want to fight their traffic violations.
He says "hundreds, maybe thousands" of Ontarians may have paid overdue traffic fines to both the province and their local municipality.
The Ontario government transferred enforcement of provincial offences to municipalities between 1999 and 2002 and many hired collection agencies to go after outstanding fines.
Over a five-year period, at least 50 motorists have come into Riopel's office to complain they had already paid the province but were still being chased down by local municipalities.
"The only thing I could say is either you have a receipt or you don't," he said in an interview. "If you've got a receipt, no problem, [but] if you haven't got a receipt, you have to pay it again."
Riopel says most of his regular clients are first-time offenders, who are worried about losing their licence, points and insurance premiums.
"They want to try to keep their record as clean as possible," he said.