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Woman almost goes to jail for unpaid fines

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 02/05) - A jobless single mother says the city should have better things to do than send people to jail for unpaid parking fines.

Tamara Doering came within an hour of going to jail for a week over $300 in unpaid parking fines.

A Yellowknife single mother now knows that bylaw enforcement isn't fooling around on parking tickets. She was almost jailed for a week recently for not paying her fines.

"I never thought it would come to that," said Doering. "I think they can find something better to do with their time."

Earlier this month, a municipal enforcement officer appeared on her doorstep with an arrest warrant in hand. The warrant was issued after Doering failed to pay outstanding parking tickets she racked up from April to May of 2004.

The officer gave Doering an hour to come up with $300 to cover the unpaid fines - or face the prospect of a week in jail.

"I was settling down to watch television with my kids," said Doering. "I was wearing my pyjamas and I didn't even have five dollars in the house."

Doering managed to borrow the money from a friend and avoided the jail stint, but said the experience left her exasperated.

"There are people out there getting (house arrest) for assaults. Why do they want to throw me in jail for parking tickets?"

Municipal enforcement manager Doug Gillard said he sympathized with the situation. But Doering had dozens of outstanding tickets, skipped a court appearance and reneged on a payment agreement with City Hall in January.

"We do not want to lock people up for a parking ticket," said Gillard. "But if there was no end consequence, the program would fall apart."

While the arrest warrant only covered five tickets - fines under $57 cannot result in jail - a court search revealed Doering had accumulated 27 parking tickets over the last several years, 22 of which were unpaid.

In Yellowknife, about eight people are jailed annually for outstanding parking tickets, said Gillard. The process however usually takes months from the time the ticket is first issued until a warrant is executed.

Gillard said his department obtained an arrest warrant Oct. 28 but held off on the warrant until mid-December, when they contacted Doering and arranged a payment plan.

Doering paid $40 from each pay cheque until mid-January, when she quit her job to finish high school in the hope of being admitted to college in the fall.

"I wanted to improve my life by getting an education," she said.

With a meagre welfare stipend - which Doering said amounted to $71 for the month - she was forced to chose between paying the parking fines and buying food for her children.

"If I had the money, I would pay," Doering said. "But if it comes down to my kids or my parking tickets, I will choose my kids."

Could have worked it off

Doering, Gillard said, was ultimately responsible for letting the situation get out of hand. She could have applied for a payment extension in court or worked off the fines by doing community service - at $8.50 an hour - through the non-profit John Howard Society.

Doering admits the tickets were her own fault, but wondered why the city was obsessed with locking people up for relatively minor offences when there are more serious problems - including drug and alcohol related crime in the downtown core - to deal with.

"It seems ridiculous," she said.

Gillard said the city is urging the territorial government to place licence restrictions on drivers with outstanding tickets. Several years ago a system was in place that would prevent drivers anywhere in Canada from renewing their license if they had an unpaid fine in the territories.

Gillard said the system - which is used in many southern jurisdictions - was discontinued about four years ago, but said territorial government officials were considering bringing it back.