Nearly all COVID-19 fines in Manitoba remain unpaid despite government 'tough' talk
Prominent rule-breaker promises he'll never pay; Liberals suggest PCs pandering to segment of base
Nearly 2½ years into enforcement of public health orders around the COVID-19 pandemic, the Manitoba government has handed out $8.6 million worth of fines but collected just a wee fraction of that.
According to statistics from Manitoba Justice, $779,775 in fines has been paid out of a grand total of $8,587,481.
That works out to nine per cent.
"The province will never see a penny for those fines from me," Patrick Allard, one of five prominent restriction rule-breakers convicted of violations this summer, said on Thursday.
Allard, who says he is on the hook for $35,000 in fines, repeated accusations of government overreach. He said he is disappointed people decided to pay even nine per cent of the fines.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont suggested the provincial government backed down after putting on a front under former premier Brian Pallister.
"He always talked about how tough they were going to be," he said.
"We now have a situation where hundreds of thousands of Manitobans followed the rules and paid a price for it — they sacrificed — while the people who broke the rules are getting away scot-free."
Over the course of the pandemic so far, the province has issued 3,566 tickets — 2,867 for violating provincial statutes and another 699 for contraventions of the federal Quarantine Act.
Of those, 857 of the former and 76 of the latter have been paid, for a total of 933.
On March 20, 2020, a provincial state of emergency was declared under the Emergency Measures Act by then premier Brian Pallister.
Ten days later, a more strict series of measures under the Public Health Act came into effect, reducing public gatherings and requiring social distancing in businesses.
The orders became enforceable by fines on April 9, starting at $298 for individuals not wearing a mask in a public place and moving up to as much as $486 for individuals or $2,542 for businesses that disregarded various other orders.
By October, the latter fine amounts were boosted to $1,296 and $5,000, respectively, in an effort to stamp out a continued apathy by many who ignored the rules.
One year after the fines were first implemented, the Justice Department revealed $1.7 million in tickets had been issued but less than 10 per cent of that had been collected.
Then-premier Pallister announced measures he thought would persuade scofflaws to pay — garnisheeing wages and prohibiting people from obtaining or renewing a driver's licence or vehicle registration until the amount is paid.
"I'm saying to those folks, you will pay your fine. And if you do not, you will not be driving your car. We will not issue you a driver's licence. You can put your car up on blocks and you can leave it there until you pay your fine," he said at the time.
"You will pay."
Pallister also announced a doubling of the default payment fee for those who fail to pay fines on time and a doubling of fine amounts for repeat offenders.
On Thursday, a defiant Allard seemed unfazed about the prospect of something like that happening to him if he doesn't pay. He said he and four others convicted in August have since filed an appeal with Court of King's Bench.
"My faith tells me I'm right, my heart tells me I'm right, common sense tells me I'm right," he said. "There is no government in the world that ever should have the authority to tell you who you can associate with and when."
The public health orders were lifted in March when the restrictions came to an end.
A number of the fines are being contested in court.
Lamont accused the PCs of creating the conditions for the court system to be "clogged with appeals" by not being more focused on ensuring those fined pay up.
"I don't think there's any political will among this government because half their base is opposed to them on this and that's why we're seeing this mess," he said.
CBC-Radio Canada requested a response from Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen's office.
"You're asking for the justice minister's reaction to the ongoing process of the administration of justice? Isn't that a little redundant?" the minister's spokesperson Jon Lovlin replied in an email.
With files from Radio-Canada's Jérémie Bergeron