Paying Fines and Getting a Pardon
Court-ordered fines and surcharges do not go away, ever. They will always be considered outstanding until the time that they are paid off in full. Until your fine is paid your sentence is not complete. Even if you served 10 years in jail, completed everyday of your sentence and you were a model prison, your sentence will not be considered complete if there is even a few dollars outstanding on any fine that you were given in court.
If your sentence is not complete you cannot apply for a pardon. Therefore you need to pay your fine and THEN complete your waiting period before becoming eligible to apply.
We understand that it can be difficult to remember whether a fine was paid 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. If we discover that you have an outstanding amount with the courts during the course of our investigations, we will advise you immediately and, while your pardon may be delayed because of an unpaid fine, you will not “lose” the processing fees that you have already paid toward your file.
We simply place a hold on your file until you meet the pardon eligibility criteria established by the Parole Board and will submit your pardon at that time.
When applying for a pardon you must not owe anything to the courts or to any victims involved in your conviction or your pardon will be delayed. Whether you contact the courts yourself or you have us do it for you, you will have to face these financial burdens at some point.
Do not assume that fines have been forgotten. They are on the books somewhere and they have a habit of turning up at the most inopportune times.
Court Imposed Fines as a Part of All of Your Sentence
A fine is a very common sentence particularly among summary (smaller, less serious) offences. For example, if you were arrested for a DUI there is a very good chance you were also ordered to pay a fine. Similarly, fines seem to apply to many non-violent offences like theft under, mischief, possession, etc. But keep in mind it is possible to receive additional demands from the court as well. Probation + a fine is very common. In the DUI example the combination is often driving suspension + a fine.
Outstanding Fines – Proof of Fine Payments
There seems to be a common misconception that the courts will track a person down and force them to pay outstanding fine. This is false and it will ultimately be up to you to prove to the Parole Board of Canada that any fines imposed have already been taken care of.
The court has no obligation to chase after a person who has been given a fine, restitution, compensation order, or surcharge in conjunction with a criminal conviction.
On the day that you were sentenced, you (or your lawyer) were given a document that instructed you how to pay your debt to the courts. That was your official notice and is sometimes the only warning a person will receive.
Some courts do send out reminders but many do not. And even those courts that do send out notices will eventually give up on a person. This only means that the court has decided that it has better things to do than to chase after you. It does not negate the fact that you were ordered to pay the fine in the first place.
Perhaps the confusion lies in that sentencing documents often iterate that failure to pay a fine will result in serving a certain number of days in jail.
This very rarely happens. The police cannot see whether a criminal fine has been paid or not on their systems so if they pull you over for speeding, for instance, they do not necessarily see anything relating to that fine you received in court.
Waiting Periods for a Pardon and Fine Payments
Once your fine is paid you are then required to wait the mandatory period before becoming eligible to apply for a pardon. Keep in mind this also applies to surcharges and penalties. So if you’re fine was $100 but you received an additional $10 for interest or whatever, it would not matter to the Parole Board of Canada if you paid the $100. The court would still have an outstanding balance of $10 and the Parole Board would consider it as an incomplete sentence. In other words you would not be eligible for your pardon.
The unpaid fine is actually a very common problem for people applying for a pardon. Prior to the Conservative government amendments to the pardon program in Canada fines older than 15 years did not require a proof of payment to be submitted with the pardon application. However, after the changes came into effect the parole board required that ALL fines be paid.
We have had several clients with fines going back 30 years or more who found themselves ineligible for a pardon simply because here was an outstanding balance at the court house. While we agree that the sentence should be completed, we believe that the Parole Board has taken the fine requirement too far.
A fair balance would be to require unpaid fines to be paid but fines that were paid following the waiting periods should not result in additional waiting periods. It would be more beneficial if an additional monetary amount was imposed, rather than additional years added to the applicant’s waiting period.
Pay your fines right away. Ideally pay them the same day you finish in court. And always keep the receipt.