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Pay your tickets (or the city will seize your stuff)

by Archives September 9, 2008

Unfortunately, the old adage, “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t apply to unpaid tickets.
Sometimes you just know you’ve done something wrong and you have to own up to it.
Say, for example, someone is driving 90 km/h in a 60 km/h zone, ripping through all the stop signs and smashing a couple of mail boxes on the way to get more beer at the dep.
This person can’t honestly be surprised when they get pulled over and are handed a hefty fine that they’re actually expected to pay.
But the city of Montreal and its boroughs are governed by a long list of municipal by-laws you might not be aware of.
The city says the by-laws are established to protect the public’s interests.
Some could argue they’re just there to make life a little less fun and a little more difficult.
There are bylaws pertaining to sidewalk sweeping, waste removal and dog control; zoning, snow removal and shopping carts on wheels.
The list goes on.
There are different fines for different offences.
If a cop catches someone breaking a bylaw, that person is liable to pay the fine associated with the offence, as banal as it may seem.
Say a cop hands you tickets for breaking the municipal bylaw prohibiting drinking in public.
Now what?
A) Pay the ticket. But money like that can sometimes be hard to come by.
B) Go to court, contest the ticket and await judgment. This could buy some time, but there’s no guarantee the charges will be reversed.
C) Mindlessly stuff the ticket in a pocket and let it eventually migrate to a new, happy home under the bed.
Sure, the last option gives the offender enough time to forget about the ticket for a while. The problem is, though, the city never forgets about an unpaid ticket.
The ultimate penalty for not paying this ticket is the same as any other, according to prevention officer Louise Hache: a warrant goes out for your arrest.
“It’s not like what you see on television,” said Hache. “We’re not going to hunt you down.”
City of Montreal communications officer Phillipe Sabourin explained the process.
“If the offender doesn’t contest and doesn’t pay, the next step is for the judge to look at the case and find the offender culpable,” he said.
The judge considers some details when rendering a decision.
“The penalty for drinking in a park is different from drinking in the street,” Sabourin said.
Once the judge has made a decision in the case, the city mails the verdict to the offender.
If this letter is ignored, the court sends a second letter, asking for payment of the original amount plus interest and administrative fees.
Supposing the city still hasn’t received a payment, the court issues a warrant to seize property.
This means that, at any time of any day, a bailiff can knock on your door and seize personal property equal to the value owed to the city.
In all fairness, Sabourin said, sometimes the court’s letters go unanswered because the offender has moved to a new apartment or even a new city.
Don’t think that means they give up.
If the bailiff doesn’t find the offender, the court publishes a new warrant – an arrest warrant.
“So next time the police catch you, maybe for speeding or anything, they’ll arrest you and bring you to the collections office or make you sign a commitment to go,” Sabourin said.
If, for whatever reason, the offender still refuses to pay at this point, the agency will seize part of his or her salary.
There. Problem solved. No sweat off anybody’s back.
The nice thing about municipal bylaws is that they don’t qualify as criminal offences.
That’s important for two reasons: Firstly, the arrest warrant is only valid in Quebec. Secondly, the offender’s name is cleared as soon as the fine is paid – no criminal record.
So you chose: Cough up the money as soon as possible. Locals and out-of-towners alike should be aware of the rules a city enforces. If you break a law, be prepared to pay.
Or ignore the problem and spend the rest of your university career hiding out from the law.

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