Justice Minister says homeless should sell property to pay court fines

During this holiday season, senior Conservative cabinet ministers are having a hard time staying out of trouble.

This time, it's Justice Minister Peter MacKay lashing out at judges for circumventing new rules requiring them to impose financial penalties on people convicted of a crime: doubling of the fine for a summary offence to $100 and $200 for an indictable offence. The money is earmarked for victims’ services.

The surcharge, in effect since October, removes a judge’s discretion to waive fees if an offender is so poor that he cannot pay the penalty. Judges across the country are finding creative ways around the rules when they're faced with homeless people who live in shelters. Strategies include giving people 50 years to pay off the fine.

MacKay has a solution. In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, he suggests people sell off "a bit of property" to come up with the cash to pay the penalty.

"You pay it back over time. But not a disproportionate and ludicrous period of time as some judges have meted out. There are even within some prisons the ability for prisoners to be paid. And sometimes they might even have to, God forbid, sell a bit of property to pay and make compensation to their victim," MacKay told the Citizen.

In case MacKay missed it, Justice Colin Westman, a member of the Ontario Court of Justice, sums up the problem with the minister's analysis.

"Those people in the soup kitchens I see in the courtroom, they don’t have a voice. I think I have an obligation to them," Westman, 70, told the Globe and Mail last week.

"It’s a sham to say, 'Oh, we’re going to get you money off the backs of these kinds of people.' They don’t even have a method of collecting. It’s embarrassing. And why aren’t victims looked after in our general revenues, if you really have a heart?," asked Westman. 

This public spat is just the latest in ongoing troubles with Conservative government's so-called "tough on crime" agenda.

Happy holidays, Minister, and stay warm.
Photo: secdef. Used under a Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0 licence.