Alberta ends arrests for unpaid traffic fines, minor infractions

Alberta justice minister defends process for freedom of information requests

Starting next month, Alberta will no longer throw people in jail if they can't pay fines for minor infractions, such as transit fare evasion or drinking in public.

Bill 9, an Act to Modernize Enforcement of Provincial Offences, takes effect on May 1. Besides ending jail time for those who don't pay fines, it also introduces electronic ticketing to streamline the workflow for court clerks and police officers.

"The new measures related to Bill 9 will allow police and court staff to focus their time on serious and violent offences," Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said on Monday at a news conference in Airdrie.

"The new system also ensures that consequences remain in place for people who break the law, but they're enforced through civil methods, which are fairer and more efficent."

Under the former system, arrest warrants were issued when people didn't pay their fines for these infractions. Police didn't have the time to search for and arrest those people, so they were often found when an officer did a record check during a traffic stop.

"People who are extremely disadvantaged will not be finding themselves in jail for failing to pay these warrants, because that can have all sorts of unintended consequences for the individual in their lives and for the system as well," said Ganley.

"We see many people who are caught up in this cycle and often their stories started with unpaid fines and other minor administration of justice issues. We truly feel this will enhance community safety, improve lives and save taxpayers money," Chris Hay, executive director of John Howard Society of Alberta, said in a statement.

Now, people who don't pay their fines will be convicted without being present in court.

The fines can be paid through a number of measures. The amount could be taken off a GST rebate or tax refund or garnisheed from wages or a bank account. A registry agent could refuse to register a vehicle until a fine was paid.

With the e-ticketing system, information that was previously entered into the law enforcement and court systems will now be entered electronically into both at the time the infraction is committed. Police and peace officers can issue a printed ticket from a cruiser.

The government thinks the change will save court clerks about 9,000 hours each year. Police officers will no longer have to go before a commissioner of oaths to swear the ticket. 

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