Ontario ombudsman investigates cases where drivers miss notice of licence suspension (The Star)

Ontario ombudsman investigates cases where drivers miss notice of licence suspension (The Star)

June 27, 2017

27 June 2017

Ombudsman cites “weak links” at transportation ministry in cases when drivers not notified their licences have been suspended.

Rob Ferguson
Queen's Park Bureau
The Star
June 27, 2017

Ontario’s ombudsman is investigating “weak links” to find out how drivers whose licences have been suspended or reinstated have missed important notifications from the Ministry of Transportation.

Mailing systems and computer problems are being considered as part of the investigation that began in May following a Toronto Star story about a Toronto man who learned his licence had been suspended since 2013, Paul Dubé said after issuing his annual report Tuesday.

He had not paid a speeding ticket, but was allowed to renew his licence plate sticker at least twice despite the suspension, buy a new car and renew insurance without the suspension being flagged.

“Those are the kinds of things we’re going to look at. Where does it break down? Where are the weak links?” Dubé told reporters.

“We all know what the outcome has been... people finding out years after the fact that they’ve been suspended, and, if their insurance is invalidated as a result, it can be pretty catastrophic from a financial point of view.

More complaints have been rolling in since the initial Star story and investigation was announced.

Some have gone years without knowing their licences are suspended.

Dubé said “it’s a bit early to draw conclusions” on what has gone wrong at the ministry, but, he said, the probe will wrap up this summer and a report will be written in the fall.

He suggested better co-ordination with Service Ontario, which does licence plate sticker renewals, is needed.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said drivers used to be notified of suspensions and reinstatements by registered mail, but that practice was scrapped about 17 years ago.

Efforts are under way to improve how drivers are informed about the status of their licences.

“I want to make sure the notification is effective so at the end of the day we’re prepared to look at all options,” Del Duca said on his way into a cabinet meeting.

“We’ll be happy to receive the input and feedback from the ombudsman around how to make it right.”

He stressed that motorists whose licences have been suspended have broken the rules.

“Driving in the province of Ontario is, in fact, a privilege; it’s not a right. So we have to balance making sure that our notification is effective and robust alongside the fact that people who receive suspended licenses do so only because there has been an infraction or violation of the law.”

Police and insurance companies have often been the ones to tell motorists their licences have been suspended, and the ministry has required some to go through the graduated licensing program to get their driver permits back.

Dubé has said he suspects “an underlying systemic problem” at the ministry, which sends about 130,000 suspension notices a year to motorists who have not paid traffic fines.

The ombudsman’s annual report also slammed the Ministry of Transportation for wrongly suspending another driver’s licence for 315 days over medical reasons, even though the motorist did not have a health condition.

“Several administrative errors had been made,” said Dubé, who noted the driver lost his job because of the snafu and had to be compensated by the government for “financial hardship.”

No dollar figure was revealed.

Bureaucratic errors also abounded at the Family Responsibility Office, which channels support payments between former spouses.

In one set of circumstances, a woman owed $100,000 in support from her ex-husband complained about the office for its “lack of enforcement action” in the case. The ombudsman’s office intervened, and the former husband’s wages were garnisheed and a lien placed on his property.

No identities of the people involved were released.