'Ludicrous' drunk drivers may not face charges under proposed changes, says mother of man killed
Alberta government 'considering all options' in review of impaired driving rules
An anti-drunk driving advocate says it's "ludicrous" that Alberta may adopt a model where impaired drivers do not always face criminal charges.
"Everybody knows that a criminal record is the biggest deterrent," said Sheri Arsenault, who became involved in advocacy after her 18-year-old son Bradley and his two friends were killed by a drunk driver in 2011.
"It would affect travel, it would affect employment, it can essentially affect just about everything you do — so that is the biggest deterrent." she told The Current's Matt Galloway.
Alberta's provincial government alluded to a review of sanctions for impaired drivers in last month's throne speech, without revealing specific details.
In a statement to The Current, the provincial government said it is "considering all options and looking into what may best work for Albertans, keep impaired drivers off the road, and ensures tough sanctions."
The statement noted it was reviewing similar systems in place in Manitoba since last year, and in British Columbia since 2010.
In B.C., police can issue a fine or licence suspension to a first-time offender, as long as no injury or damage has been caused.
Andrew Murie, the CEO of the Canadian branch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, explained that this administrative system includes assessing whether the driver needs to enter an alcohol treatment program, or have an interlock device fitted which prevents driving without an alcohol-free breath sample.
The focus of the system is preventing people from drinking and driving again in future, he said.
"The criminal system tends to focus on penalties, which are fair. But we haven't had the success with that system that we've had with the administrative system."
System frees up police, says advocate
Murie said that because the administrative process required less paperwork and court time for police, they were freed up to prevent more impaired driving on the roads — incidents that may not have been caught otherwise.
In their statement, Alberta's provincial government told The Current that the issue was being explored "with an eye toward speeding up the justice system, clearing up the backlog in the courts, and saving police time."
Arsenault said there are so many drunk drivers in the courts because sanctions are not "tough enough on them in the first place."
She argued that getting behind the wheel while impaired should make someone just as culpable whether there are fatalities or not.
"The minute they turn on their key, they are committing a federal crime," she said.
"The one that just got stopped is just lucky, lucky he didn't kill anybody or himself."
Late last year, a CBC investigation found that Canada's statistics on impaired and distracted driving fatalities are incomplete and years out of date because the B.C. Coroners Service has repeatedly failed to share its data with the agencies that compile the national numbers.
'Back a giant 10 steps'
Murie said the changes already in place in B.C. and Manitoba did not amount to decriminalization, because charges are still laid against drivers in many situations.
"It's another tool in the tool box where the police officer, in certain circumstances, [can] use this administrative sanction versus criminal code charges," he said.
"I think every province should follow this."
Arsenault disagreed, saying Canada is already "the most lenient country in the world regarding impaired driving."
"This decriminalization of impaired driving is literally taking our country, Canada, back a giant 10 steps," she said.
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Idella Sturino, Mehek Mazhar and Matt Meuse.