Woman stunned to receive 20-year-old bylaw ticket for off-leash dog that wasn't hers

Woman stunned to receive 20-year-old bylaw ticket for off-leash dog that wasn't hers

A Toronto woman is bewildered after receiving a notice for an off-leash dog bylaw infraction dating back 20 years — especially since the dog wasn't even hers and its owner has long since died.

"At first I thought it was a joke," said Stacy Majchrowski. "Well, no. No, it's real."

The city of Barrie is now seeking $243.25 for two decades of accrued interest on an initial fine dating back to 1998. Majchrowski says the ticket was for around $30.

On a summer day that year, Majchrowski was at her family's cottage in Barrie when a neighbour's dog called Mitzy wandered over to her property.

The dog's owner had some mobility issues, Majchrowski said, so she and her kids would frequently look after the dog around the cottage.

Shortly after Mitzy followed the kids to Majchrowski's property, a bylaw officer showed up and handed her a ticket for having the dog off-leash.

Not long after, she remembers the dog's owner, Norm Nixon, leaving his home to explain the situation. The bylaw officer handed him a ticket too.

"I assumed he took the ticket for the offence," she said, gesturing with air quotes on that last word. "I know he paid the ticket, that I know for sure."

For 20 years, she had no reason to think otherwise, or any reason to think about the incident at all. Majchrowski says she received no mail or phone calls about the fine, and had no trouble renewing documents or registration connected to either the province or Barrie.

That changed last week, when a letter from a Montreal-based collection agency demanded a payment of $243.25. The message included a threat of "further enforcement" if the fine wasn't paid.

"It's not even the amount," Majchrowski said. "It's not fair."

Is ticket valid?

CBC Toronto contacted the city of Barrie to get an explanation and got an emailed statement Friday from Rodger Bates, manager of the city's court services.

The city couldn't "speak to this specific individual's situation, however there are no time limitations on provincial offences, court-ordered fines," Bates wrote.

"Individuals should be aware that any outstanding fines they may have never cease to exist and also survive bankruptcy," the statement reads.

Barrie paralegal Catherine Hyde, who often deals with collection cases, agrees the request is likely legal.

Hyde says the infraction would have been processed through the Provincial Offences Act, meaning the fine is considered a debt to the Crown, on which there is no expiration date.

"So you'd have to tell the client that the city of Barrie is probably within their right to pursue this," she said. "But the question is whether or not it is just and fair."

In part, that comes down to whether the city made an effort to inform Majchrowski about the outstanding debt. If they didn't, Hyde wonders what prompted the city to do so now.

"I think your best bet is to try to negotiate with the city of Barrie about why they're pursuing her 20 years later," she said.

In addition, she says Majchrowski could argue that the fine for the incident was paid by her neighbour, though that could prove difficult since those records are likely long gone and the neighbour is dead.

Her conclusion: "I would suspect that the city would not enforce payment," she said. 

Majchrowski hasn't yet decided if she'll pay the fine or fight it.

One last laugh

Despite the prospect of a hefty fine, Majchrowski is taking the incident in stride.

She and her family were close, long-time friends with Nixon, who she figures would quite enjoy the absurdity of the situation.

"He's probably laughing right there," she said, gesturing to the earth. "He would just think this is crazy."

In another twist, Majchrowski's family actually took in Mitzy after Nixon died, and the dog lived with them for five years before she died.

"His dog, his ticket, he'd probably say, 'You know, Stacy, I'll get you a good bottle of liquor for this,'" she said.