Anne Miller’s life hit a nasty speed bump Saturday when the resident of Udora, near Uxbridge, opened her mail.
An Ontario Transportation Ministry letter said her driver’s licence had been suspended almost three weeks earlier. With no details, only a number to call, the 54-year-old thought it was medical, likely related to an aneurysm she survived months ago.
But after calling and being redirected she was shocked to learn the suspension is for failing to pay the $88.25 fine for a speeding ticket she got in Scarborough — on Jan. 9, 1989.
“I couldn’t believe it — I’ve only been pulled over four times and I don’t remember this at all,” even after hearing conviction details from court records, the former Scarborough resident said.
She is upset she unknowingly drove while suspended, risking a severe penalty if pulled over, and that a 30-year-old ticket has stranded her at home. She paid the fine but has for days waited for her record to be cleared so she can go to Service Ontario and pay a $275 licence reinstatement fee.
“Why doesn’t the right hand look at the left hand — find the new address, make the call or send the letter, give them 21 days to pay and if they don’t pay then suspend them?” Miller said, noting the letter used her maiden name spelled wrong and court records listed her grandmother’s address.
“They really know how to screw people over.”
Miller is far from alone. In the past month or so, as part of a City of Toronto crackdown on unpaid traffic offence fines triggered by an auditor general’s report, many people, including some who drive for a living, have received suspensions for fines many have no recollection of ever receiving.
Many are angry at the city, which has been combing through records back to the 1980s for unpaid penalties and forwarding details to the province, and at the province for failing to warn them before suspension, sending notices by regular mail, and making reinstatement hard and time-consuming.
“It’s human nature when there’s no immediate penalty, it goes to the back-burner, you have so many other things to think about and you may just forget about it,” said paralegal Daniel Jenner of OTT Legal in Ajax, who used to get occasional old-fine calls and now has a flood of them.
“These fines follow you until death. They survive bankruptcy, everything. The court at any point can come back and suspend your licence for that fine,” said Jenner who believes the whole driver record system needs an overhaul with technology making it easier and fairer for everyone.
Drivers should be able to show a police officer a smartphone photo to prove insurance, rather than a specific slip of paper, he said, and those who consent should get ministry notices by email.
Transportation officials are aware of the complaints and looking at potential changes, said ministry spokesperson Chelsea Dolan.
“The ministry is currently reviewing this process, including how and when drivers are notified of their licence suspension, to determine if there are any changes we need to consider,” she said.
Fines imposed on or after May 1, 2010 can be paid at a Service Ontario desk. Older fines must be paid at a courthouse, Dolan noted.
Toronto auditor general Beverly Romeo-Beehler in 2018 scolded city officials for not trying hard enough to collect fines from provincial offences that flow to city coffers. In June 2017 there were 2 million cases in default with fines totalling $577 million.
Her recommendations included using the provincially legislated licence suspension power as one tool in a “cost-effective, multi-streamed approach to collect on defaulted fines.”
Susan Garossino, the city’s director of court services, said her staff have since last fall combed records for unpaid fines for provincial offences, including moving traffic violations. Enforcement includes collection agencies, licence suspensions and plate denials, adding fines to property tax bills, and civil court actions.
Candidates for licence suspensions are referred to the provincial defaulted fines control centre, which checks details and sets wheels in motion for suspensions, Garossino said.
As to the fairness of being hit up for a 30-year-old ticket, she said: “The onus is on the defendant to make sure all their fines are dealt with in a timely manner. It’s a key component of the administration of justice to enforce the court order,” to pay a fine.
People can email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to check for unpaid fines, she added.
Mike Mariano knows Anne Miller’s pain, and then some. The licence of the Ajax man was suspended a couple of weeks ago for failure to pay a fine for being caught driving with expired insurance in Toronto back in 1999.
With his wife away, he is Ubering kids around while getting a court date to see if he can talk a justice of the peace into reducing the whopping $7,000 penalty, or at least let him pay in installments.
He admits to being a “dumb kid” who must not have paid the fine after a justice of the peace initially reinstated his licence soon after he got the ticket. But he wonders why he was able to renew his licence all these years and why, if a crackdown was coming, he wasn’t given a warning and time to pay up.
“It’s a cash grab,” Mariano said. “They totally disrupt people’s lives. Would it hurt to be a little more empathetic?”
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider