Feb 24, 2016 - BILL AIMED AT CRACKING DOWN ON IMPAIRED DRIVERS WELCOMED BY TWO ALBERTA MOMS

Former Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney

A private-member’s bill that would allow police to order random breath tests and create mandatory minimum sentences for impaired drivers is being welcomed by two Alberta moms united by tragedy.

Calgary’s Grace Pesa and Leduc’s Sheri Arsenault, who have been fighting for stricter penalties since their sons were killed by drunk drivers, are applauding Bill C-226 tabled Tuesday by former public safety minister and Tory MP Steven Blaney. 

“What matters most is this is being brought forward again,” Pesa said Wednesday. “The law needs to change. This is long overdue.”

“We’re very happy,” added Arsenault, with Families for Justice. “This literally affects everyone from coast-to-coast. This bill is for every single Canadian.

“I’m expecting amendments and all that stuff, but I’m not anticipating much opposition. It’s a very good bill.”

Among the changes proposed by the bill on impaired driving:

  • A mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 25 years for impaired driving causing death.
  • The maximum sentence for impaired driving causing bodily harm would go up from 10 years to 14 years.
  • A judge would be able to apply consecutive sentences if more than one person was killed, and give escalating penalties for repeat offenders.
  • Mandatory screening would allow police to ask any driver at any time to provide a breath sample, whether the vehicle was in motion or not.
  • If an officer had “reasonable grounds” to suspect someone had alcohol or drugs in their system and that individual had operated a vehicle within the past three hours, the officer could demand that the person perform a physical co-ordination test and/or provide breath samples.
  • Those who plead guilty may be given lighter sentences “for acknowledging their offence in good faith.”

In a statement, Blaney said the bill would help eliminate “legal delays and loopholes.” That includes getting rid of the so-called “bolus drinking” defence, in which the accused individual claims to have quickly consumed several drinks just before driving and that their blood-alcohol content was not over .08 at the time of driving. 

“This bill includes measures to relieve pressure on the courts and speed up the process, as well as preventive measures to save people’s lives,” Blaney said Tuesday as he introduced the bill. 

Pesa and Arsenault said they are pleased with the bill overall, particularly with the mandatory minimum sentences that they hope will finally act as a deterrent.

“It inches those sentences up to where it fits the crime a little better,” Arsenault said. “And the consecutive sentences, that one really makes me happy.”

Her 18-year-old son, Bradley Arsenault, was killed along with friends Thaddeus Lake, 22, and Kole Novak, 18, in a crash near Beaumont, Alta., on Nov. 26, 2011, when Bradley’s Pontiac Grand Am was struck from behind by a Dodge Ram going 199 km/h.

Johnathan Pratt, the driver of the Ram, was found guilty of manslaughter and impaired driving causing death and given an eight-year sentence.

Pesa’s son, 20-year-old Francis Pesa, was killed on New Year’s Day 2014 when a Dodge Ram crossed the centre line on Metis Trail in northeast Calgary, side-swiped a Mazda, then crashed into Francis’ BMW.

Kulwinder Singh Chohan, who was driving the Ram, pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death and was handed a three-year sentence in January. 

Kelly Ernst, board member with the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, said he has some concerns with the bill allowing police officers to conduct random breath testing and encouraged parliamentarians to revisit that section or simply take it out.

“That one is ripe for abuse,” Ernst said, adding anyone who refuses to comply during a random test could see a “whole list of other penalties ensue.”

Sheri Arsenault, left, and Grace Pesa, right, meet with Calgary SkyView MP Darshan Kang to discuss support for Bill C-73.

Arsenault and Pesa were encouraged last year when then-justice minister Peter MacKay introduced a similar bill, C-73, last June in the dying days of the last Parliament. 

But when the Liberals took power after the federal election and the bill died on the table, the two moms resumed their fight to keep the issue alive, consulting with Alberta’s four Liberal MPs to try to get them on board.

Arsenault said the introduction of this bill was a huge victory, but their work is yet to be done.

“I think we’ll probably be trying to contact as many Liberal MPs as we can to gather their support for it,” she said. 

“I’m not going anywhere until this as a law,” Pesa added. “We’ll just keep going.”

Source: Calgary Herald


 

Last updated on: 2016-02-27 | Link to this post