Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay promised to get tough with drunk drivers when he took over his portfolio almost two years ago

The federal government is on the road to nowhere with its belated bill proposing increased penalties for impaired drivers.

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay promised to get tough with drunk drivers when he took over his portfolio almost two years ago, but he waited until yesterday to announce legislation — days before the expected end of the final session of Parliament before the Oct. 19 federal election.

The timing means the bill is highly unlikely to pass before the House of Commons rises for the summer. Even MacKay conceded to reporters Tuesday the government “probably” should have acted sooner.

And regardless of the election result, MacKay won’t be around to help determine the bill’s fate — he’s quitting politics and won’t run in the fall campaign.

This all undermines MacKay’s claim that the bill — which toughens a range of sentences for transportation-related offences and introduces a six-year minimum prison sentence for impaired driving causing death — sends “a strong signal to those who choose to drive impaired”.

If the government wanted to send that signal, it should have acted much earlier in its mandate.

There’s been no shortage of encouragement for such action. In November 2012, federal and provincial justice ministers discussed the need to increase Criminal Code penalties for impaired driving, “particularly crimes involving repeat offenders or where serious bodily harm or death is caused.” MacKay’s predecessor, Rob Nicholson, and then-public safety minister Vic Toews co-chaired that meeting, which requested senior officials make the issue a “priority”.

Little more than six months later, in July 2013, MacKay became justice minister and said impaired driving laws would be updated. He met several times with a group petitioning the government to impose a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for impaired driving causing death.

Punishment for impaired drivers who cause death has been a hot topic in Saskatchewan, which has one of the highest rates of impaired driving in the nation.

A couple of robust sentences have recently been handed down. A repeat drunk driver who killed a conservation officer on a highway south of Saskatoon received a nine and a half year prison sentence last week. Last month, another repeat drunk driver got a nine-year prison sentence for causing the death of a Regina man.

Lesser sentences have drawn criticism. The six-year prison sentence handed down Friday to a 22-year-old woman who was impaired when she crashed a stolen truck into a car in Saskatoon, killing two teenagers, was denounced as “weak justice” by the families of the deceased.

And last month, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal was asked to overturn a 30-month prison sentence, deemed by prosecutors to be inadequate, for an impaired driver who crashed his car into a semi in Regina, killing one of his passengers and injuring two others.

MacKay’s bill is the starting point for debate on some important questions:

Is the six-year minimum sentence the right number?

What about parole eligibility?

Should the sentence be in addition to time spent on remand before trial?

These are questions MPs will want to examine in detail and the public will want to weigh in on.

Unfortunately, because of the government’s tardy approach to this important issue, we’ll almost certainly have to wait until next year before changes are made to the law.

Source: Leader Post

Last updated on: 2015-06-21 | Link to this post