While I agree with the rest of your comments, I disagree with the last,. If a civil debt has been entered against you (whether private or government) and you don't pay in defiance of a court order, then you are technically in contempt of court and can be arrested. Of course, its not going to happen overnight, there will likely be lots of notices and the like, and chances for you to present your case, and its certainly not going to happen on a trip to the US. I am not going to restrict my movements across the border one bit.
IMHO, I honestly don't think that the US government is going to clog up the justice system for people that show 'reasonable cause' when filing late FBAR's.
Do you think that a US judisiary board is going to open up there busy court system for honest people like us who didn't file because they were too busy living and paying taxes in the country the reside?? It's hard enough to keep Revenue Canada happy let alone another entity I was unaware of.
If the above statement happens, there will be so many lawsuits and it will only take one successful one to set a presidence (spelling sorry).
Do you really think they will win when you present your 'reasonable cause' for a non willful penalty?? (Assuming of course that you tabulated everything on your FBARs and your tax history with Canada is clean).
Not to mention, what instruments do they have to advise us of changes to the US revenue system ie: I was NEVER advised and was NEVER told I had to file...and I have had numerous Accountants in the past who have done work for me.
Some could argue that point, but folks...this is life. I work, try to save money, raise my kids, try to make wife #2 happy, and hopefully save for a retirement.
There are a lot of things I do not know, and filing in the states was one of them.
I would hazard to guess that there are individuals that actually LIVE in the US that file there 1040 returns that do not know about the FBAR system (assuming they have accounts outside of the states).
Although the non willful penalty is draconian to say the least, if you have a good enough reason, like living in Canada or the UK all of your life...paying your taxes....abiding by the laws of your country...and honestly NOT knowing that you had this obligation with the IRS..i think you are going to be OK.
Remember as well that, although you divulge all of your FBAR information on your bank accounts, they DO NOT have the authorization to go into said accounts due to the Canadian banking privacy act.
They WILL however be able to look into your account information if you are under investigation, assuming you are targeted AND assuming FATCA comes into effect in 2014.
If FACTA becomes delayed again, then there fishing expeditions are on hold until such time.
This is why it is so very important to make sure the information on your FBARs is accurate and correct.
Another thing we haven't talked about here is the new IRS form that is to be filed with your 1040. Not sure of the form # 8838 or something...anyway, your account information will have to be tabulated on this form as well. Not sure but I think there is a draft version on the internet, and I think it comes into effect in 2011