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Vancouver may increase fines for public fighting, tie unpaid tickets to credit ratings

Bright lights and traffic along the Granville Mall, downtown Vancouver, B.C., January 4, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Bayne Stanley

Throwing punches in Vancouver’s Granville entertainment district could soon become more expensive — and damaging to brawlers’ credit ratings.

A city staff report set to be debated by council on Tuesday suggests increasing fines for public fighting to $1,000 and reporting outstanding debts to credit rating agencies.

While staff say the higher fine is meant to “deter street fighting and disorder,” the report also recommends lowering the fine back to the current amount of $500 if the ticket is paid within 30 days.

The early payment discount “is anticipated to improve collection rate for fines imposed for fighting,” staff wrote.

READ MORE: Fighting fines: NPA Vancouver councillor wants brawlers to pay up

If fines still aren’t paid after 60 days, staff suggest sending outstanding tickets to the Credit Bureau of Canada Collections, who would begin reaching out to the scofflaws. The bureau would then report the debt to credit rating agencies Equifax and TransUnion if collection attempts are unsuccessful after 90 days.

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The report was requested through a motion tabled by NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova in February, who asked staff to explore ways to force more people to pay their fines.

According to Vancouver police data cited in the motion, 66 per cent of people responsible for police calls on the Granville strip and booked in jail overnight on the weekends live outside of the city.

De Genova says 128 tickets for fighting were issued in 2018, but only 36 were paid. Under the current fine amount of $500, that means the city lost out on $46,000.

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In addition to tying outstanding bylaw debts to credit ratings, De Genova also suggested forcing brawlers to pay their fines if they wanted to renew their driver’s license or auto insurance.

The move would have been similar to existing B.C. legislation requiring traffic tickets to be paid before renewals can be approved, and would have required provincial approval and an amendment to the legislation.

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However, staff noted the idea would open the city and province up to legal challenges under the Charter of Rights of Freedoms, ” as someone could be deprived of a driver’s license for a by-law violation unrelated to their driving record.”

Staff also noted similar requests have been made by municipalities throughout B.C. dating back to the 1990s, and all were rejected by the province for the same reason.

READ MORE: Fine for fighting: Vancouver council considers stricter approach to brawling on Granville Strip

“Since 1994, staff are aware of seven unsuccessful requests from other BC municipalities and/or the Union of BC Municipalities seeking assistance from the Provincial Government with collection of unpaid municipal tickets,” staff wrote.

Those requests, made most recently by Whistler in 2018, sought to similarly crack down on unpaid parking and property bylaw tickets.

The report states staff consulted with Vancouver police on raising the fines, which the department endorsed.

Police were also asked about potential racial bias in handing out tickets for public fighting.

“VPD does not believe racial bias is a factor because enforcement of fighting by-laws is not considered to be a voluntary interaction with the police meaning that if the police attend a scene, they will stop and detain parties involved to investigate,” the report states.

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Police also said it does not collect data on the ethnicity of people who are arrested and fined for public fighting.

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