11/16/2011

Provinical Offences Act Backgrounder, November 16, 2011.

Two reports released last week show the municipal need for the provincial government to provide greater tools in the collection of Provincial Offences Act (POA) fines.  This was a key “AMO Ask” during the October provincial election.

Law Commission of Ontario

The Law Commission of Ontario has presented its final report on the issue which included the contributions of various municipal representatives.  It’s report entitled, “Modernizing the Provincial Offences Act: A new Framework and Other Reforms” reviewed the procedures for the prosecution of offences under Ontario statues, regulations and municipal by-laws.  Recommendations of particular relevance to municipalities are listed below:

Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMP) and Parking Infractions (Recommendations 10-15)

The report suggests that the greater use of Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) as permitted by the Municipal Act could yield greater savings and efficiencies in the court system.  An AMP system generally imposes a fine at the time of infraction (as opposed to a fine which is imposed after a guilty plea or court conviction) and provides for dispute resolution by an independent administrator (rather than a court).

Currently only the Cities of Oshawa and Vaughan use an AMP system.  Vaughan has realised significant streamlining and efficiencies in pursuing this alternative.  The report recommends mandating the broader municipal use of an AMP system after a 3 year delay and amendments to the Municipal Act to include the improper use of disabled parking spaces as an AMP recoverable infraction.  It also suggests exploring using the AMP system for some offences under the Highway Traffic Act.  The Commission concludes that such changes would be constitutional.  AMO will discuss these recommendations with the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Unpaid fines (Recommendations 38, 44)

The report draws attention to a key advocacy issue of AMO.  It notes some of the new enforcement tools granted to municipalities in 2009 but points out, “they may be of limited assistance.”  AMO estimates that $1 million in fines go unpaid each week in Ontario.  The report points out that in the other provinces, agreements with the federal government ensure unpaid fines are deducted from income tax refunds and GST rebates.  It raises concern that such a policy here could affect low-income Ontarians.  The report is silent on the effects of this fine enforcement technique on the low-income populations of Saskatchewan and Alberta where such programs already exist.   

AMO has argued for several years that the efficacy of existing methods of fine enforcement (including refusing vehicle licence plate and driver’s licence renewals) could be greatly improved with better inter-ministry and inter-jurisdictional information sharing.  The report suggests that the full list of recommendations made in 2009 by the POA Streamlining Review be reconsidered for implementation.  AMO looks forward to discussing all improvements to fine enforcement with the Ministry of the Attorney General and other ministries.

Ontario Association of Police Service Boards (OAPSB)

The second report has been prepared by the Ontario Association of Police Service Boards. The OAPSB recommends the Government of Ontario:

  • Provide better data for better decision-making
  • Improve inter-ministry collaboration and information sharing
  • Embrace stakeholders, by holding regular discussion forums and acting on their suggestions
  • Allow courts to assess ability to pay, and offer alternative sentences
  • Provide better “customer” service to those persons paying fines
  • Provide more “carrots and sticks,” including discounts for early fine payment, stiffer late
  • penalties, and payments in accordance with the chronological order of sentencing
  • Help municipalities to follow up on outstanding fines (“ask them, and they might pay”)
  • Institute stronger, meaningful collection sanctions for fine defaulters, including broader driver’s licence and licence plate denial, vehicle impoundment, and garnishment of income tax refunds

Summary

AMO will continue to lobby the province for improvements to the fine collection and enforcement system.  It is an issue of fundamental importance to the rule of law and the administration of justice in Ontario.  AMO is encouraged by the Premier’s statements at the August Conference and again recently in the media regarding the government’s commitment to improving fine collection.  AMO President Gary McNamara will be discussing the issue with the Attorney General and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in the near future.