Speeding scofflaws in Ontario will soon be feeling extra pressure to pay outstanding fines, as the province gives municipalities the power to deny them licence plates.
Under changes the Liberal government is set to enact in May, people who have not paid fines for driving-based offences, such as speeding and careless driving, won't be able to get or renew their plates.
The current plate denial regime only applies to vehicle-based offences, such as parking tickets and red-light camera fines.
Municipalities in the province are owed a collective $1.4 billion in unpaid fines for provincial offences, including those under the Highway Traffic Act. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has been asking the government for more than a decade for more tools to collect that money.
Some of those fines date back 50 years and couldn't be feasibly collected, so the government is making the policy retroactive seven years.
Del Duca: Changes send a 'clear message'
About one-third of the defaulted fines are from the past seven years. Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca acknowledged that even with the changes, municipalities won't be able to collect all of the approximately $500 million, but it sends a strong message to people with outstanding fines.
"If they've managed to navigate the system to their benefit up until this point in time, it's that much harder now for them to do it," he said.
"With any system that government puts in place there will always be those who will find creative ways to avoid playing by the rules, I suppose, but this is another opportunity for us to be able to get those fines collected and make sure people get a clear message that they can't continue to act in this way."
Municipalities hope to collect outstanding fees
Municipalities had been hoping the change would apply farther back than seven years, but are now just anxious to collect more of the outstanding fines, said Lynn Dollin, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
"If those fines aren't paid, it's you and I covering those administration costs out of our property taxes, so we want to make sure that we're getting the full bang for the buck and everything that we're entitled to is coming to us," she said.
People with unpaid speeding tickets are already subject to licence suspension, but plate denial will be an added motivator to pay those fines, said Del Duca.
"A person might be theoretically out there driving with an expired or suspended licence, therefore they're not going forward to get it renewed, but you have the visual sticker on your licence plate, you have all that stuff that is easier for law enforcement to recognize at a glance," he said.
The change is one of the last to be enacted under the Making Ontario's Roads Safer Act that passed in 2015. The legislation also increased fines for distracted driving and "dooring" cyclists and introduced new penalties for drug-impaired driving.
The regulation — which would not apply to jointly owned vehicles or those registered to a company — is posted for a mandatory public comment period, which ends Monday.