Each year, the provincial government releases its changes to fees and services structure.
Some of them get lots of attention, such as earlier this year, when the government revealed that it was ramping up fines for speeding tickets. Most of us drive. Some like to drive really fast, while others will travel a little bit more than the speed limit.
So when the government announces an increase to the base fine, and an increase for the fine per kilometre, you understand why people pay attention.
But other increases don’t get much discussion. There wasn’t much talk locally about an increase in irrigation water operation and maintenance fees.
Another thing about these fee increases is you often don’t pay attention to them until after they take effect. The government can announce them, the media can write about them or discuss them, but it falls into the back of your mind until you’re suddenly dinged with that increase for the first time. Then you realize how much it will affect you, and how much it could impact you on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis.
There are also those increases that don’t get much attention, because they don’t directly impact a lot of people.
Such is the case with the provincial government’s decision to charge $1 per page for court dockets. For the longest time, this was free. But as of July 1, you now need to pay that nominal fee, unless you’re in a certain group, such as law enforcement or a lawyer.
And if you want to get the docket emailed to you, it’s a dollar per page.
It’s one thing to charge a dollar a page for a printed document. After all, that process takes time. And it uses paper at a time when everyone is trying to reduce paper usage.
A dollar a page for email? That’s a lot of money to attach a document and hit send.
But it adds up. If you went to court every day (and not just docket court on Monday), and paid the $1 per page, you’d be looking at hundreds of dollars, or even more than a thousand dollars.
It means local media outlets now have to pay that fee if they want to get the docket for the day, even though it’s a public document.
Covering court is an important aspect of providing accountability and information. It allows reporters to provide follow-up information on a crime, and it places the finishing touch on a trial.
It’s not just the big stories that receive coverage, either, such as drug busts, violent crimes and serious accidents. Sometimes it allows the media to bring attention to a story that hadn’t been announced previously, such as a child pornography case at the North Portal border crossing in July.
And if charges are stayed against an individual, or an individual is found innocent, then court reporting allows the media to inform the public.
The media shouldn’t be charged for this important accountability measure.
This is not a knock against the men and women who staff the courthouse in Estevan and other communities. These are good, hard-working people who not only handle a variety of tasks on a day-to-day basis, but they also have to be patient and knowledgeable with people who want to come in and ask questions or pay fines.
All levels of government have fees for services or charges of some kind. In some cases, they serve as a deterrent. If you want to speed, drive in a dangerous fashion or park illegally, then you should expect to pay the consequences.
In other cases, it serves as a means to recoup the cost of the service provided. Some of them generate lots of money, even if they’re chintzy.
Charging people for court dockets in Estevan isn’t going to generate a lot of money, just like many of the other fees charged by government won’t generate a lot of money. But all of those minor fees add up. And when you consider that these smaller fees are happening on a daily basis, at locations across the province, you realize why we’re being nickel and dimed to the degree that we are.