Nfld. & Labrador

'Set to launch': Province to test community service as a way to pay traffic fines

After years of pondering it, the Newfoundland and Labrador government appears set to roll out a new way for people to pay off their traffic fines.

Andrew Parsons says long-discussed fine-option pilot project expected to get rolling this fall

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons hopes to launch a pilot project this fall that would allow people to do work in the community in lieu of paying money they owe for fines. (John Pike/CBC)

After years of pondering it, the Newfoundland and Labrador government appears set to roll out a new way for people to pay off their traffic fines.

"The pilot program right now is set to launch in the fall," Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told CBC News.

"What we're hoping to do now with this pilot project is to set up a system where people can basically contribute time and service in lieu of the money that they're owing, that they just have not been paying — and in many cases, for poverty reasons, they cannot pay."

Unpaid fines are a $40-million problem for the provincial treasury. They are largely for traffic tickets, but can also include things like contraband tobacco offences.

Provincial governments of all stripes have struggled with the issue over the years.

All this, as there is a steady stream of news stories about unlicensed or uninsured drivers being picked up with thousands — or tens of thousands — of dollars owing in unpaid fines.

Not everyone will qualify for the pilot project, Parsons said, and the province is in the "final stages" of figuring out how this will all work.

It will begin on a limited basis, with the possibility of expansion in the future.

"If you started too unwieldy, too big, I think you're destined for failure. But if we start it and have some positive track records here, I think you can then grow and expand it," Parsons said.

He says similar programs exist in other jurisdictions.

The pilot project in Newfoundland and Labrador will use existing resources, in the probation and fines administration division.

A CBC News investigation uncovered details of the last provincial pilot project aimed at tackling traffic scofflaws.

It relied on a section of the Criminal Code that could have had debtors incarcerated if they didn't pay up. It was not a success.

That initiative is now in the rearview mirror, and the justice minister says the focus is on what happens next.

"It has a different approach that I think accomplishes more good, hopefully, than what the previous one did," Parsons said.

'Can't get blood from a stone'

In many cases, he says, it's not a matter of people who are unwilling to pay, but who can't.

"The stark reality is that you can't get blood from a stone," Parsons said.

"We're allowing for these individuals to possibly contribute again. Many of these people, their licence is suspended. They can't get insurance. The reality is they still have to try to work. They still have to convey people from point A to Point B.

"They're going to do it. They get caught. The cycle continues. If they can give some effort and some time to help a community organization, then I think we can work with them to try to make that happen."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Antle

CBC News

Rob Antle is producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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