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Saturday, January 08, 2000

Mother of nine thrown in jail over unpaid parking tickets
127-day sentence for $3,635 in fines
Campbell Clark
National Post

Le Journal De Montreal
Sandra Savard, with two of her children, said she had never seen the seven parking tickets that will cost her 127 days in jail.

MONTREAL - A single mother of nine has been sent to jail for non-payment of $3,635 in parking fines.

Sandra Savard, 34, spent New Year's Day in jail as part of a 127-day sentence handed down without her ever going to court.

Her children, ranging in age from 18 months to 17 years, have been split between the homes of their grandmother and their two fathers while she is in prison.

"Tomorrow, they're all coming home," Ms. Savard said in a telephone interview from prison yesterday. "And I'm still here."

Ms. Savard was a passenger in a car driven by a friend when police pulled them over for a routine check on Dec. 27.

When police discovered she was wanted for non-payment of parking fines, they arrested her. Ms. Savard said she was handcuffed, brought to the police station, and sent to Tanguay prison in Montreal the next day.

She was told she could leave immediately if she paid her fines, but neither she nor her estranged husband, Abdellah Hmaimidi, who is the father of her three youngest children, could afford to pay.

"My husband spent everything on Christmas presents for the children," she said.

She will be eligible for parole on Jan. 15.

Ms. Savard said the $3,635 in fines appear to be from only seven parking tickets, but they were issued more than two years ago, and fees and interest have caused her debt to grow rapidly.

She insisted she had never seen the tickets -- although she said it is possible she is responsible for one or two -- and believes they were incurred by people who borrowed her car. "There are tickets in there I've never seen," she said.

Ms. Savard, who moved two years ago from Quebec City to a subsidized-housing apartment in east-end Montreal, said she never received any notice that she owed such fines, or that she faced arrest for non-payment.

"I was stunned," she said. "And it was such a large sum. How could parking tickets for $30 or $40 add up to more than $3,000?"

Her 127-day sentence was not handed down at a trial. Because she did not contest the tickets she was found guilty. The jail time was imposed by default when she did not pay.

Ms. Savard said that since her arrest 10 days ago she has tried to suggest she do community work or pay over time, but to no avail.

"They don't even want to hear about it," she said.

She said she is worried that she is away from her 18-month-old boy, Souidi, and that Mustafa, her four-year-old, has been collecting bottles to try to pay her fines. "We had to tell him it was not enough, and he was so depressed," she said.

Her husband, Abdellah Hmaimidi, who is separated from Ms. Savard but has returned to her apartment to take care of the three children they had together, said he could not believe that unpaid parking tickets would lead to such a lengthy jail term.

"It seems like murderers sometimes don't even get a year in jail, and she gets 127 days for parking tickets?" he said.

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