Alberta mother's 6-year campaign to toughen impaired driving laws gets backing from Conservative MP

A Beaumont, Alta., mother whose son was killed by a drunk driver is keen to see a bill passed to amend the criminal code around impaired driving.

'We want accountability,' says Sheri Arsenault, mother of 18-year-old killed by drunk driver in 2011

Sheri Arsenault has advocated for reforms to Canada's impaired driving laws since her son died in 2011. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

A Beaumont, Alta., mother whose son was killed by a drunk driver is keen to bolster a federal bill to amend the criminal code on impaired driving.

Sheri Arsenault lost her teenage son Bradley in 2011. She has since become a strong advocate for harsher punishments against drunk drivers.

She joined Conservative MP Michael Cooper on Sunday for a small press conference in St. Albert to urge Canadians to sign a petition calling for tougher penalties. 

'It never goes away'

Six years after Bradley, 18, died in a violent crash, Arsenault said she still expects him to walk through the door.

Bradley was killed when a drunk driver slammed into the back of his car on a highway near Beaumont in 2011.

His friends Thaddeus Lake, 22, and Kole Novak, 18, also died in the crash.

Bradley Arsenault (left), Kole Novak (centre) and Thaddeus Lake (right) died in 2011 when a drunk driver crashed into their vehicle near Beaumont. (Sheri Arsenault)

Arsenault wears a metal locket with Bradley's picture around her neck. She says the weight is a constant reminder of the child she lost.

The names of her son and his two friends also circle Arsenault's wrist on three rubber bracelets.

The wreckage of a crash that killed Bradley Arsenault, Kole Novak and Thaddeus Lake in 2011. (CBC )

"It never goes away. Every day you wake up and your child is on your mind," Arsenault said. "When a young, innocent life is taken, it's very hard for anyone to fully recover from that."

The man convicted in her son's death was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2014, with a lifetime driving prohibition.

Earlier this year, he became eligible for parole.

'It's very black and white'

After her son's death, Arsenault joined Families for Justice to lobby for reforms to Canada's impaired driving laws.

"For me, it's very black and white — we want accountability," Arsenault said. 

"We want a reasonable sentence that not only gives a little more justice to the victims or the victims' families, but also demonstrates deterrence for the general public not to commit this crime in the first place."

In 2014, she met with then justice minister Peter MacKay.

The following year, she stood with MacKay in Ottawa as he introduced legislation to create harder penalties for impaired drivers, including a mandatory minimum sentence of six years for those whose actions end up killing someone, 

MacKay proposed the changes less than a month before Parliament recessed for the summer.

The Liberal party won the election that fall and in early 2017, tabled its own legislation to stop impaired driving.

Bill C-46 includes reforms such as greater maximum sentences and higher minimum fines for impaired drivers.

Cooper, the MP for St. Albert-Edmonton, is gathering signatures for a petition to include minimum sentences for impaired driving offences.

Arsenault said she hopes their combined advocacy will move the federal justice minister to create tougher penalties than those proposed in the bill.

'A recognition of what they have lost'

Cooper argues that Bill C-46 doesn't go far enough to punish drivers who kill people while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

"Whether it does have a deterrent effect or not, the fact is that this is about justice," Cooper said. "This is about justice for the victims and their families... It's a recognition of what they have lost."

Cooper is one of three Conservative politicians on a 12-member federal standing committee on justice and human rights studying amendments to the criminal code through Bill C-46.

On Friday in Parliament, Cooper argued for "common sense Conservative amendments to Bill C-46, which would have strengthened penalties for impaired driving offences." 

"Despite Liberal opposition, there is still hope that Bill C-46 can be fixed," he added. 

Cooper said he expects there to be a vote on the bill in the House of Commons this week, after which it will go to the Senate.