A Saskatchewan man described as a serial drunk driver has been sent to prison following his nineteenth conviction for impaired driving.
Sentencing of Kenneth Obey, 55, took place in June at provincial court in Fort Qu'Appelle. He was given three and a half years by judge Barbara Tomkins, whose decision was recently published to an online legal database.
'His conduct shows virtually complete disregard for the well-being of himself and others.' —Provincial Court judge Barbara Tomkins
According to the decision, Obey was pulled over in August of 2012 and had a blood alcohol reading of two and a half times the legal limit for driving.
Judge Tomkins noted Obey got behind the wheel because his traveling companion, who was supposed to drive, was even more intoxicated than he was.
"Mr. Obey thought it better that he drive," Tomkins said, adding "whether this illustrates Mr. Obey's disregard for the law and the safety of others or is the addled thinking of an intoxicated man, it is troubling."
The judge went on to note "Mr. Obey's record for drinking and driving offences is, frankly, shocking" and listed 18 convictions for impaired driving between 1981 and 2005.
The judge also reviewed how Obey had been sentenced for his previous drinking and driving convictions and found the courts had tended to "extreme leniency" in her view. In most cases, she said Obey was given no more than three months in jail.
In 2005 he received his longest sentence — 12 months — for his 18th conviction on impaired driving.
Abused at residential school
Obey asked the court to consider his difficult personal circumstances in deciding a sentence and the judge did review what was clearly a troubled background.
Court was told that Obey had had a good childhood until he was sent to a residential school where he suffered abuse.
"Upon leaving the residential school, Mr. Obey did not disclose the abuse," judge Tomkins said. "Instead, he almost immediately began abusing alcohol, initially drinking with school friends.
"When he started working, he was able to abstain during the week but binged on weekends. Eventually, his addiction affected his ability to maintain employment," the judge added. "He recognizes that he uses alcohol to mask his pain and forget his residential school experience."
Tomkins noted that Obey applied for compensation through the Indian Residential Schools settlement and, after several years, was finally approved for a payment.
"He received significant compensation in August 2012," Tomkins said. "While the payment was welcomed ... his lawyer says that receipt of the cheque — presumably confirming the reality of his experiences — drove Mr. Obey over a 'psychological cliff' and resulted within days in the [impaired driving] charges."
The judge said it was fortunate no one was hurt when Obey got behind the wheel last August.
"For his own convenience, apparently, he chose to drive with the aggravated blood alcohol level," Tomkins said. "While through nothing other than luck, especially given his level of impairment, no one was hurt or killed, Mr. Obey put the public at significant risk. The seriousness of the offence is exacerbated by the fact that he has engaged in similar conduct on at least 18 prior occasions. His conduct shows virtually complete disregard for the well-being of himself and others."
Ultimately, in addition to the three and a half years in prison, Obey was given a 15-year ban on driving.