Sheri Arsenault Letter to MLAs [25 Mar 2018]

March 25, 2018

All Members of the Legislative Assembly:

Re:   Concerns Regarding the New Provincial Impaired Driving Legislation Proposal

I have been made aware that our Provincial Government will be proposing changes to the Traffic Safety Act with respect to impaired driving legislation.  My understanding is that this is planned to happen in early April.  After meeting with the Deputy Justice Minister, Philip Bryden and Traffic Safety Coordinator Rob Palser on Tuesday, Mar. 13, we have not been able to obtain much information on the proposed changes.  They did not give me a whole lot of detail as I was told that the legislation is still being worked on and there will eventually be recommended “guidelines” to be followed.  I was basically told that the purposed law will mirror the changes that British Columbia made to its’ legislation in 2010, essentially decriminalizing impaired driving at the 0.08 blood alcohol level.

In 2011 my son Bradley and his two friends Kole Novak and Thad Lake were horrifically killed by the actions of a drunk driver. These 3 young men, just graduated, were about to start their Secondary Education. This tragedy has left not only 3 families devastated, it has completely crushed family members, friends and 3 communities.  As a victim, a mother that lost her 18 year old son, I have since been working very hard in advocating for changes to the Criminal Code.  I’ve had some measure of success, (Federal Bill C-73 in 2015).  I’ve testified before the Justice Committee and Senate Committee, regarding this very serious crime.  And now I am in total disbelief that our Province is now proposing to decriminalize impaired driving and I have serious concerns regarding this proposal.

I have spent much time meeting and discussing this very serious crime with as many knowledgeable experts as I could find.  I spoke with Crown Prosecutors, defense lawyers, city police (traffic division), RCMP (traffic division), Government Officials, former Justice Ministers (Federal and Provincial) and victims.  I have spoke with students from both Alberta and B.C. and law enforcement in B.C.  I even spoke with people who engage in this crime. I have heard all sides of this legislation and I have read as many studies as I could find regarding decriminalizing this crime.  All, except for MADD were in agreement with my position of not decriminalizing impaired driving at the 0.08 BAC level. MADD is a large, national, corporate organization that does not speak for the victims.  They speak only for MADD’s interest. You would be hard pressed to find a victim anywhere that would agree with MADD that decriminalizing impaired driving is good legislation.

Without argument, this is the Number 1 crime in Canada with Alberta being at the top of the list.  Impaired driving claims more innocent lives than all other forms of homicide combined. Three to four innocent Canadians lose their life every single day, while close to 200 Canadians are seriously injured by the actions of impaired drivers. Every day!  It is indeed a serious crime and there are literally 1000’s and 1000’s of victims, like myself, that are left shuffling through life figuring out a way to carry on without what is most precious to us, our children, our loved ones.  As I studied the B.C. “stats” it was abundantly clear to me that the occurrences of impaired driving have not gone down at all in B.C.  Driving behaviors have not changed! The only advantage is that with only an administrative penalty and a fine, the police are able to handle this offence more quickly and get back on the streets.  Eight years has proven that administrative sanctions are not effective as a deterrent to commit this crime in the first place.

“If you drive drunk the odds of being caught are approximately 1 in 2000 or 11% in 3-years, 7.7% in 2-years, and 3.9% in 1-year ~Robert Palser~   “Presentation on Bill 26,  April 30, 2012”  More and more drivers will risk driving impaired because there already is a very low chance of being caught as it is, and if caught, they will have no Criminal Record.  First time “caught” does not mean first time “behavior”

The fatality rate has gone down in BC but it also has gone down in all Provinces that enforce the Criminal Code. Furthermore, in the 8 years that BC has implemented this “administrative” approach, no other Provinces have followed.  Good legislation would have been adopted by other Provinces in that time frame.  I feel this purposed legislation is taking a giant step backwards and over time impaired driving would tend to become a “ticketed” offence rather than the present Criminal offence.  A Criminal Record is a huge deterrent.  It was put in the Criminal Code for a reason. I always believed that the stigma of a Criminal charge in our society is a much stronger deterrent to committing impaired driving offences than a “monetary ticket” while still allowing offenders their day in Court with the due process of the law. Impaired driving should never be decriminalized.   I was hopeful that Alberta would strengthen and modernize our Provincial laws aiming at a strong deterrent factor which would tell the people that this crime is taken seriously and Public Safety is of great concern. Alberta should be seen as a leader in attacking this Crime.  This crime completely devastates families and entire communities. Decriminalizing this crime does not send that message and would do more harm to our society in the long term.  A crime is a crime and all Canadians should expect the same sanctions when it comes to Criminal Offences regardless of in which Province the crime is committed.

I realize that our Justice System in Alberta has a very heavy workload and has difficulty in prosecuting all the crimes committed. I am aware that there is a disproportionate percentage of criminal cases that involve impaired drivers and this is costly and troubling to everyone. However, this is not because of bad laws but because of funding allocations and priorities. It is quite apparent if more resources were allocated to our Justice System the prosecution of criminally impaired drivers could be done in a more timely manner and become a much lesser problem.  Public Safety should always remain the most important priority and lives should not be sacrificed to save dollars. 

I find myself unable to support decriminalizing impaired driving at the 0.08 BAC level for fear of the horrific outcomes and impact this new legislation would have on Albertans. This is especially troubling to me with the unknown consequences of the upcoming marijuana legalization. Law enforcement has a very important role in preparing their reports for prosecutors.  We wouldn’t want those skills to diminish as a result of using only administrative prohibitions when a criminal charge is necessary.  I believe it is incumbent on all our Members of the Legislative Assembly to reflect on and review all purposed changes to impaired driving legislation very carefully before voting on it.  This is a non- partisan issue, and regardless of political stripes and ideologies, protecting all Albertans and life preservation is paramount. This Criminal Offence has been in place for many years across Canada and should never be allowed to become an “Administrative” fine that would put all Albertans at risk and in harm’s way. Albertans don’t want to be part of that legacy.  

I would be pleased to meet or answer any questions from any Members.  I would also make myself available to offer solutions. In the end, saving lives, public safety is my only concern, my only motive and purpose.  I have nothing to gain except the hope that everyone’s child gets home safely. My child did not. 

Everyone’s worst nightmare is to get that knock on the door by that stranger in a police uniform with his hat in his hand.  I had that knock.

Yours respectfully,

Sheri Arsenault



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