Impaired driving — for all the death and heartbreak it causes — is something we’re used to. Terrorism isn’t. Impaired drivers come from all communities, classes, races and cultural backgrounds. Terrorists, on the other hand, make much better political props. For a PM in campaign mode, terrorism is a lot sexier.

Stephen Harper tells us that the “… international jihadist movement has declared war … on anybody who does not think and act exactly as they wish they would think and act.” He tells us he takes no pleasure in informing us of this threat — although he mentions it often enough to make you wonder.

Rest assured, the prime minister will confront this new war with “… additional powers to make sure that our security agencies have the range of tools available to them to identify potential terror threats and to … (undertake) detentions and arrests and other actions where necessary.”

Mouse, meet shotgun. Makes you wonder how — if Harper was this moved by the deaths of a handful of magazine artists and two Canadian soldiers — he’d react to a type of crime that kills three Canadians every single day.

Impaired driving is the number one cause of criminal death in Canada — deadlier than streets gangs, serial killers and, yes, even terrorists. But when was the last time you heard the PM talk about confronting the threat of drunk and stoned drivers?

In their first criminal omnibus bill, the government improved impaired driving provisions in the Criminal Code, introducing testing for drug-impaired driving. Since then, the focus has been on serial and mass killers and high-risk individuals with mental health issues who commit serious crimes — spectacular crimes, to be sure, but still a small fraction of the threat that impaired driving presents every single day.

There have been the usual rumblings about stiffer sentences or mandatory minimums, neither of which will do much. The government is said to be reviewing other proposals, including extending the time during which samples can be taken from a suspected impaired driver.

There’s no single solution to stopping impaired driving, just as there’s no one solution to fighting terrorism or gun violence — but we don’t have to look far for good ideas to reduce the number of impaired driving related deaths. Other countries have done it through random breath testing — which deters people from driving while impaired far more than stiffer penalties can..

Some will argue random breath testing violates the Charter — but the RIDE program of spot-checks has survived, so random breath testing could too. Charter rights are not unlimited; even if random breath sampling was found to violate the Charter, it could still be upheld by the courts. If, for example, the Supreme Court found it to qualify as unreasonable search and seizure, it could still declare it a “reasonable limit” on a Charter right due to the vast number of people killed or injured every year by impaired drivers.

Would it be inconvenient? You bet. Have you been to an airport lately? Or driven across the border? The relatively minuscule risk of terrorism has led to vast changes in how we travel — none of them remotely convenient, or fun. In this case, nobody’s talking about reading your emails or looking at your cell phone texts. And a poll done by MADD Canada showed that most Canadians support random breath testing.

And it’s not like this government is shy about passing laws that might violate the Charter. How many times has Harper been told by people who ought to know that some shiny new crime bill that does nothing to enhance public safety may violate the Charter? How many times has he backed down?

Impaired driving is also ruinously expensive. Prosecution and the other attendant costs of impaired driving eat up $20 billion per year. So why doesn’t impaired driving get the kind of attention terrorism does?

Sadly, impaired driving — for all the death and heartbreak it causes — is something we’re used to. Terrorism isn’t. Impaired drivers come from all communities, classes, races and cultural backgrounds. Terrorists, on the other hand, are easy for politicians to brand as alien, as outsiders — shadowy figures on the fringes of society. That makes them much better political props. For a PM in campaign mode, terrorism is a lot sexier.

Terrorism is a threat, true, and we expect our our government to take reasonable steps to protect us from it. But it’s not the most serious criminal threat facing us — not even remotely. Responsible governments don’t pick and choose which threats they confront based on what makes better TV. They act to save lives.

We’ll all remember the two soldiers who died here, and the civilians killed in France. But what about the thousand or so people who lost their lives to an impaired driver last year? What about the thousand who will die this year? Who remembers them, outside of their families? And who speaks for them?

Steve Sullivan has been advocating for victims for almost 20 years, having served as the former president of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime and as the first federal ombudsman for victims of crime. He has testified before numerous parliamentary committees on victims’ rights, justice reform and public safety issues and has conducted training for provincial and federal victim services. He is currently the executive director of Ottawa Victim Services and a part-time professor at Algonquin College in the Victimology Graduate Certificate Program. His views are his own and do not represent any agency with which he is associated.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

Source: iPolitics


Last updated on: 2015-01-21 | Link to this post