Victim Surcharge Fees

Judges Defy Order to Impose Mandatory Victim Surcharge on Convicted Offenders – Helping or Hurting?

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have made it clear that their “tough on crime” stance is a priority.

Criminal Charges and Fines

Their newest legislation, which adheres to the party platform, has made it mandatory for all convicted offenders to pay a victim-services surcharge regardless of their socioeconomic status or present circumstances. As covered in a recent article by the Globe and Mail, judges no longer have the authority to waive this fee on a case-by-case basis, and have been fighting back by finding ways around fining those that are unable to pay.

55 per cent of accused offenders receive legal aid, the requirement to qualify for this funding being annual earnings under $10,800.00. Because of this statistic, judges are taking the law into their own hands and using loopholes to  avoid having individuals pay fines that they would be incapable of settling. Many judges in Ontario, Alberta, and BC, see extending the amount of time one has to pay the victim surcharge as a plausible way around the situation. A judge in Toronto recently afforded someone 99 years to pay the fee, while out West judges are setting deadlines of anywhere from 10 to 50 years to pay.

Victims Surchagre  Fees

The debate regarding mandatory surcharges aside, are judges really doing offenders any favours by giving them a lifetime to pay? Not to contest the fact that their motives are well-intentioned, have they thought about the potential consequences to those they are trying to help?

In March 2012 the Harper government made it more difficult to be pardoned for a criminal offence. The waiting period to be eligible for a pardon (now ‘Record Suspension’) was extended from 3 to 5 and 5 to 10 years based on the severity of the conviction. This waiting period begins from the date that the sentence has been completed, which includes all fines, restitution payments, court fees, and victim surcharges being paid in full. Consequently, an individual given an extended period of time to pay a fine will not be eligible to receive a pardon until it has been settled.

Can you afford to pay your surcharge fee? Answer: You can’t afford NOT to.

That being said, many offenders are not aware that fine, restitution, and surcharge payments will affect their eligibility for a pardon. Most, I would imagine, would not be happy to hear 5/10/15 years down the road when applying for a pardon, that they have an outstanding payment and are not eligible. They would be told to pay the surcharge now (one that they were given a lifetime to pay), and then wait another 5/10 years to become eligible to move on with their lives. No pardon equals no job, no income, and a difficult future.

At first glance the judges are doing these offenders a favour, but if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Our advice to you if you’re in this situation yourself? Pay your fines, restitution, and surcharges as soon as you can. Questions about eligibility? We’re happy to answer them for you.

Kate Duncan

866-242-2411 Ext. 240

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