The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) of Canada has issued a notice seeking companies to help collect a record $136 million in unpaid court fines. The notice comes after the federal government announced it wants to revive a plan for third-party collection agencies to pursue the backlog.
PPS issued an earlier notice in 2012 but continued with an internal collections strategy instead of hiring outside firms.
It then cut $1.7 million from the budget of the fine recovery program in 2013-14 to help pay down the federal deficit, said Sujata Raisinghani, spokesperson for PPS. Outstanding fines that were recovered dropped in value that year, to $6 million from $7 million a year earlier, while the total of unpaid fines rose by $11 million to the record $136 million.
An estimated 33% of the overdue accounts are older than seven years, likely making those accounts more difficult to collect because of possible statute of limitations questions.
Penalties and interest are not charged on unpaid court fines in Canada. The delays in the collection process thus far are creating more stale accounts that might never be collected.
The PPS in 2002 assumed responsibility for collecting fines from people convicted under federal law. At the time, it inherited a backlog of cases with unpaid fines totaling $47 million. In the 12 years since, that amount has tripled. The number of unpaid fines has remained relatively stable at 20,000 each year, but the average value has greatly increased.
Fines can have a wide range - including a $9 million fine imposed for money laundering and other crimes in Montreal earlier this month in a case involving Sy Veng Chun and Leng Ky Lech, who also received prison sentences.
Any money collected as a "victim surcharge" goes into victim funds administered by the provinces, while the rest goes into general revenues.
Raisinghani said there are several options for collecting outstanding amounts, including intercepting tax refunds from the Canada Revenue Agency, and seizing assets.