Canada's federal government wants to hire a collection agency to recoup an estimated $129 million in unpaid fines, according to a letter of interest posted on a government contracting Web site.

The letter reports that 22,313 individuals owe the outstanding balances including: 2,009 owing more than $10,000; 1,049 owing between $5,000 and $10,000; 4,530 owing between $1,000 and $5,000; 3,702 owing between $500 and $1,000; and approximately $11,000 owing less than $500. The Atlantic provinces had the most outstanding accounts, with 6,618, followed by Alberta with 4,129 and Quebec with 3,132.

The federal government currently has several options to collect outstanding fines. They can negotiate a payment schedule with debtors, seize assets or garnish wages, set off the debt against any income tax refunds and sales tax credits, suspend or deny federal licenses and permits, or - as a last resort - send a debtor to jail.

An estimated 150 individuals were jailed between April 2010 and March 2011 for refusing to pay their fines, according to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada's (PPSC) annual report.

The report states that federal debt collectors have recouped $56 million in unpaid fines since 2002. In 2010-11, the report says collectors recovered just $5 million — down 15% from the prior year. Nearly all fines collected were in the $5,000 range, and the government closed 1,600 case files.

Federal fines fell under provincial jurisdiction before September 1996.

"As a general rule, provincial courts across Canada would simply issue a warrant of committal in cases where a federal fine remained unpaid after it became due," the letter of interest says of the pre-1996 collection efforts. "No further action would be taken, and incarceration for unpaid fines was the most frequent consequence for default of payment."

The National Fine Recovery Program started in 2002 to collect money from people convicted of crimes under federal law. The program is administered by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. There are small fine-recovery teams in eight cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax. The program employs about 19 paralegals and clerks as well as part-time prosecutors, the document says.

But funding for the program ends next March, according to the letter of interest.

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