Kim Thomas receives one of hundreds hugs during the Empty Shoes event on June 14 at the Mitford Park while people stop to reflect, pray and mourn. In all there were 1,875 shoes lined in rows in front of the park’s stage. Fifty-four photos, sent to Thomas by families who lost a loved ones to drunken drivers, were displayed on stakes throughout the field, many with messages on the back. The access shoes received from across Canada and the US were heaped in piles with signs reading “Whose Next?”

Empty shoes and broken hearts that could have been prevented.

That was the message the thousands of shoes and pictures of loved ones left upon  those attending the Empty Shoes event at Mitford Park, June 14. For organizer Kim Thomas it gave people a visual of the devastating impact of impaired driving.

“The empty shoes created a visual awareness of just how serious this issue is,” she explained. “Many of the people here are in tears or are shaking their heads as they walked through the rows of shoes.”

Earlier she addressed the crowd.

“Every one of these pairs of shoes you see laying here before you represents a son, a daughter, a mother, a father a sister, a brother, an uncle, an aunt, a husband, a wife, a grandparent, a grandchild, a cousin, a best friend, a co-worker, or a neighbour someone’s life lost because of an impaired driver,” Thomas said.

“Every one of these pairs of shoes represents someone who had the right to their life, and who should still be here alive today. Every one of these deaths was preventable.”

Thomas told the crowd four to six Canadians are killed by an impaired driver every day and 190 are injured. The cost to taxpayers in 2011 was $84.4 billion dollars in related expenses

Response to the Empty Shoes campaign was wide spread. Within days of using social media and an announcement on Kijiji, the shoes started trickling in and it wasn’t long before there was a steady stream arrived at her doorstep each day. The shoes came from across Canada and the US.

On June 12, Ken Chester delivered a truckload of shoes from the people of Prince Albert, SK, where Front Runner Footwear took up the cause that was also joined by the community’s Value Village. Northern Resource Trucking donated the vehicle and Chester made the 1,540 km round trip. A hug was thanks enough he told Kim and her daughter Kayla.

The 1,875 shoes, one pair for each Canadian killed by an impaired driver each year, were displayed in rows and among them were 54 photographs of victims of impaired drivers sent to Thomas. Many had personal notes on the back. Hundreds of other pairs were heaped in piles with signs reading “Whose Next?”

Family and friends of Francis Pesa gathered at Empty Shoes, wearing t-shirts with a likeness of Francis on the front. The 20-year-old succumbed to injuries on Jan. 6, 2014 after being hit by an alleged impaired driver in Calgary on New Year’s Day and the family seeks justice.

Hervin Pesa, brother of Francis, was among the speakers at Empty Shoes and he encouraged people to get behind the cause. He pointed out every step you take along the line of shoes represents the death of five people daily.

“Five people are dying step you take,” said Pesa. “That’s the experience people should realize, not just the visual but everyday as we move forward five people aren’t coming back home. They’re not going to be able to hug their parents, their family members, they’re not going to be there for the people who need them the most and hopefully the people who are here to experience it share it and support us further.”

Town councillor Morgan Nagel, whose sister is a friend of Brandon Thomas, said the death really hit home with the people of Cochrane. He was impressed with how this determined grassroots effort has brought attention to the cause.
“The truth is, government organizers or RCMP or anything else can’t truly fix the problem,” said Nagel. “The real answer lies with all of you and I… we have to insist to that we will never drink or drive and that we will never let our friend and families drink and drive. We need to put our foot down on the issue.”

Adam Loria, a public education officer/EMT for Alberta Health Services, also spoke. He said these tragic deaths are hard on emergency personnel, too.

“What hits home with us is seeing all those loved ones and knowing that they’re so many options out there than drinking and driving,” said Loria. “It’s tough not to shed a tear when I walked in among all these shoes here and it surely hits home.”

There may have been a few hundred at the event, but Empty Shoes itself drew attention across Canada through different mediums. Heather Thompson, who helped with the marketing, said the Kijiji community announcement received 67,460 views.

Signatures were collected for a petition by the group Families for Justice that calls for a minimum five year sentence for people convicted of impaired driving causing death.

Source: Cochrane Times



Last updated on: 2014-07-09 | Link to this post