What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made? Was it costly? Was it as bad as accidentally hitting the accelerator instead of the brakes? Or as silly as a goalkeeping gaffe at the last seconds in a final? Or maybe as fatal as a surgeon’s oversight in the ER? Whatever it was, I hope you’re still not paying for it monetarily or emotionally, and have since forgiven yourself.
Mistakes are inevitable – everyone makes them, but some are more high stakes than others. For most immigrants in Canada, the goal is to keep the blunders at the barest minimum. Learning the ropes in a new country can be difficult. While newcomers can certainly get a lot of help and information from the numerous immigrant settlement agencies, most learn a whole lot of stuff simply by observation or listening to the lived experiences of other immigrants. As they try to wrap their heads around their new way of life, they may soon realise that things are done differently in Canada – there’s no roadside mechanic to pump your deflated car tyres or a bus conductor to inform you of the next bus stop, and people do not run when crossing the road.
While navigating the transit system in Canada as a newcomer may not cost so much (other than a reasonable monthly pass sprinkled with missed bus stops and a few treks), there are other aspects of day-to-day living that can cost you a lot if you’re oblivious of the rules and consequences. And by a lot, we’re talking hundreds of dollars.
Between paying for groceries, mortgage, insurance, utilities, unplanned purchases, black tax and unexpected repairs, you probably have a lot of money going out from your pocket on a daily or monthly basis. You do not want to add an avoidable fine to your list of expenses.
Here are six little mistakes to avoid as a new immigrant in Canada:
We know you’ve got a kind heart and love to share, but whatever you do, do not feed those cute squirrels, rabbits, deer or pigeons that hang around your property or the ones you see at the park. Not even a banana for that monkey. When you feed those charming squirrels or rabbits that visit your garden, you are also inviting the animals that prey on them. Sooner or later, you will be hosting not-so-charming bobcats, foxes and coyotes too.
Feeding wildlife could get you in trouble in Canada. For instance, in Vancouver, if one is caught feeding an animal in a park or caught leaving food out to attract a wild animal, one would pay a $500 fine. If you’ve got more disposable income, then try feeding wildlife in the city of Hamilton, Ontario. In Hamilton, feeding of wildlife could attract fines of up to $10,000 for first-time offenders and up to $25,000 for a subsequent conviction. Shey wahala no too much laidis? Isn’t that more than enough for a mortgage down payment in some provinces? So, when next you see a bear, run! Okay, do not run, but don’t feed. You get the point.
Not shovelling snow off your sidewalk
In Canada, persons who live in homes with walkways are legally obligated to remove snow and ice from public sidewalks and walkways adjacent to their property. The accumulated snow must be shovelled down to a bare surface. The goal is to provide safe access for persons and vehicles. Provincial bylaws are in place with fines for persons who do not clear snow and ice off their sidewalks within 12-24 hours of snowfall and who drive with snow on the roof of their cars. For instance, in Toronto, business owners must clear the adjacent sidewalk of snow and ice within 12 hours of the end of snowfall. The fine for not clearing snow in a public property is $105 plus $30 surcharge. For private property owners, residents are encouraged to dial 311 to report private property owners who do not clear their sidewalks within 24 hours.
In Calgary, property owners and occupants are required by law to remove snow and ice down to bare surface within 24 hours of snowfall. Persons who do not comply with the city’s ordinance attract a fine of $250 for a first offence. Repeat offenders may be fined $500 and $750 for a third offence. If you’re wondering why anyone would want to break the law three times, and for something as ‘little’ as shovelling snow, the only legitimate reason would be that the property owner went on vacation and the neighbours aren’t nice people.
So, when next you’re shovelling snow off your sidewalk, be a good neighbour and shovel your neighbour’s sidewalk too. Who knows, they may come through for you some day and save you some really good money.
Not picking up after your dog
If you own a dog in Canada, it is unlawful not to pick up your dog’s poo on public or private property. Provinces have bylaws related to dogs. The norm is for dog owners to move around with compostable bags in their pockets to pick up their dog’s waste at any point in time. They poop, you scoop. Good boy!
Failure to comply would result in a fine. In Winnipeg, a defaulter could be fined up to $400. In Edmonton, failure to stoop and scoop attracts a fine of $100.
Remember to keep your dog on leash too, well unless they are on your property (in a secured yard) or in a designated off-leash area. “My dog is friendly” won’t cut it. Do not let your off-leash Scooby Doo cost you a fine.
Late tax-filing & over-contribution
Any individual who is 18 years with a valid social insurance number (SIN) can open a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) and a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). There is a limit to how much you can contribute into both accounts during the year. Over-contributions can attract a penalty. For the TFSA, contributions exceeding your contribution room for the year as set by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will attract a tax penalty: you will have to pay tax equal to 1% of the highest excess TFSA amount in the month, for each month that the excess amount remains in your account. For RRSP, contributions exceeding your contribution room will also attract a tax penalty equal to 1% per month on excess contributions that exceed your deduction limit by more than $2000 unless you withdrew the excess amounts or contributed to a qualifying group plan.
All Canadian residents are also expected to file their taxes each year, even if they do not earn an income. According to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), for most people, taxes must be filed on or before the April 30 deadline. Taxes filed after the due date attract a late-filing penalty, which is usually 5% of the previous year’s balance owing plus an additional 1% for each full month you file after the due date, to a maximum of 12 months.
Even though the process of filing can be daunting for a new immigrant, having a late tax-filing problem can be a nightmare. Be sure to be truthful and report promptly and accurately, or the fines could come with jail time. And even though jail is one word, it could mean a whole sentence too. Be guided.
If you are in the habit of fiddling with your phone, eating and drinking, grooming or listening to loud music while driving, sooner or later, you may be hit with a fine of up to $300 plus demerit points. Provinces and territories in Canada follow their own set of rules with regards to the penalties for distracted driving. For instance, in Manitoba, drivers caught engaging in any form of distracted driving get a fine of $672 plus three-day licence suspension for first-time offenders and seven-day licence suspension for subsequent offences.
In Alberta, the penalty for distracted driving is $300 and three demerit points. In January 2022, Alberta Justice Minister, Kaycee Madu, was stripped of his ministerial duties by Premier Jason Kenney because of his conduct following a distracted-driving ticket he received in March 2021.
Do not get on the wrong side of the law. When driving, do not engage in any activity that can affect your judgement and prevent you from driving safely. Put that phone away and keep your hands on the wheel. That meal or gist can wait.
Not yielding to emergency vehicles
When you’re driving and you hear the sound of a siren from an emergency vehicle approaching your direction, what do you do? Well, if you live in Ontario and do not want to part with at least $400 of your hard-earned money, get demerit points and a possible suspension of your driver’s licence, the wise course of action would be to safely move your vehicle to allow the emergency vehicle passage.
In Canada, emergency vehicles such as ambulances, police cars, fire trucks and tow trucks, always have right-of-way. Motorists are required to yield to emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens. You can be charged if you do not slow down or move over for an emergency vehicle. It is also illegal to follow within 150 metres of a fire truck or ambulance responding to a call.
For everyone’s safety (including the safety of your pockets), help emergency vehicles get to the scene quickly and safely by getting the hell out of their way. Who knows, the emergency vehicle just might be trying to reach your loved one.
Bonus tip: A false fire alarm could cost you a fine too. You could also save yourself hundreds of dollars when you avoid these driving/traffic mistakes: running the red light, not wearing a seatbelt, improper turns, failure to stop at the stop sign, driving beyond the speed limit, carrying a child in a car without the appropriate car seat.
Did you make any of these mistakes as a new immigrant in Canada? What did you do? We would like to laugh at –
scratch that – learn from you!