B.C. councillor proposes tying traffic fines to offenders’ incomes

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Vancouver Island councillor pitches speeding fines tied to income
Watch: Fed up with ongoing street racing on B.C. roads, a Saanich District Councillor is pitching a new idea to more appropriately hit drivers in the pocket book. Travis Prasad reports. – Jan 20, 2023

A B.C. councillor is proposing a new way for cities to assess traffic fines.

Saanich councillor Teale Phelps Bondaroff is proposing that fines should be based on how much money a person makes rather than just a flat rate.

“So if you fail to yield for a pedestrian, you get a $121 ticket,” Bondaroff told Focus BC Friday. “Failing to yield to a bus is a $368 ticket. There’s two problems with these fines. The first is that they disproportionately punish people with lower incomes. And the second aspect is they fail to adequately serve as a deterrent to the extra wealthy.”

He said a similar system has already been adopted in countries such as Finland, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Austria, France and Switzerland.

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Bondaroff explained that in Finland, they have what’s called a defined system where they take the income of the individual and they figure out what their spending money would be for the day on average. That number is then divided in half.

“And they decide that half of your day, you know, you’re spending money for the day is an adequate amount to deprive someone else, and then they multiply that by number of days based on the severity of the crime,” he added.

“If someone is very wealthy, a $100 ticket does nothing to deter their behaviour. You know, that’s a cost of a bottle of wine with dinner. If you get a $368 fine, that’s the difference for someone between paying rent that month. But it’s also an expensive Coach bag. This is a system that’s been adopted around the world and it works. You’ll see very wealthy people getting fines that actually serve as a deterrent.”

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Finland made headlines in 2015 when a millionaire businessman received a €54,000 fine for travelling about 20 km/h over the speed limit.

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Bondaroff said even a $483 ticket, the highest in B.C. for excessive speeding, does not necessarily deter a person who can easily afford that cost.

Kyla Lee, a Vancouver criminal lawyer with Acumen Law, said this is not the first time an idea like this one has been floated.

“I’m not aware of it being used anywhere in Canada. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not used anywhere in Canada,” she said. “But it could work. It would require additional information. The government would have to have tax-related records in order to base the income decisions, and there would have to be regulations put in place to determine what the fine amount would be based on your income, based on your tax returns.”

Lee said that information is already used by the courts in order to determine child support or family support, for example.

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However, there could still be loopholes: if people keep some of their income in offshore accounts; if someone gets pulled over who does not pay taxes in B.C.; or professionals who run their income through a corporation.

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“So the amount of money that they actually have access to isn’t reflected in personal tax returns,” Lee explained. “So it does still advantage the wealthy over people who are not wealthy. But there is some leveling of the playing field in that it would give more discretion to the court to impose lower fines for people who aren’t able to afford the existing fines that we already have.”

Bondaroff said he would like to implement some kind of system that encourages people to follow traffic laws in B.C. as road safety is a major issue.

“My hope is that this policy pairs well with the second policy that I’ll be presenting at Saanich council as well, which is one on traffic cameras. The conversation I had with road safety advocates was we want to increase people’s compliance with road laws. But the problem you get is that when you have things like traffic cameras, which are a really effective way of decreasing enforcement costs and ensuring that people are actually caught when they break the law, is that those fines disproportionately impact people’s low incomes and also fail to deter the wealthy.”

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