Proposed federal legislation to step up penalties for impaired driving would be a welcome and needed change, says a local victim's advocate.

"I'm very excited about any new legislation that's tougher on impaired driving, especially when death is involved," said Cathy Drinkwater, chair of the newly renamed Brant-Brantford-Six Nations Impaired and Distracted Driving Advisory Committee.

The proposed legislation, announced by Justice Minister Peter MacKay on Tuesday, would see a mandatory minimum sentence of six years in prison imposed on a conviction for impaired driving causing death. He cited impaired driving as the No. 1 criminal cause of death in Canada.

The proposed law, called the dangerous and impaired driving act, also would double the maximum penalties for impaired driving from five to 10 years behind bars, and would increase the maximum penalty for impaired driving causing bodily harm from 10 to 14 years.

Drinkwater, who has served on the local committee for six years, says it is hard to believe 25 years have passed since her then 22-year-old sister, Jody Blair, died after being struck by an impaired driver as she rode a bicycle on Bealton Road.

The offender was sentenced to six years in prison for a host of offences, not just the death of Blair, and his sentence was later reduced to two years on appeal, Drinkwater said.

Drinkwater's story is one of many local tales of lifelong heartbreak endured by people who have lost loved ones to impaired drivers.

Stiffer penalties for those offenders are sorely needed, she said.

"People are not getting the message, so maybe judges haven't been sending home the message," Drinkwater said.

She said she understands some may be critical of the stripping of judges' case-by-case discretion by way of mandatory minimum sentences, but adds that "judges aren't the family living with the death of a child, a mother, a brother."

Drinkwater also said she hopes stiffer penalties will cause people to think twice about driving after having consumed alcohol and also encourage friends, family, bar owners and others to speak up and take action to prevent impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel.

Locally, the number of impaired driving charges laid by police has been on a fairly steady decline over the past several years, and that is encouraging, Drinkwater said, but the anti-drinking and driving message needs reinforcement, along with a new and disturbing target, being distracted driving.

Brant MP Phil McColeman says that changes to impaired driving laws are long overdue.

"Current laws are not sufficient" and "victims have been asking for this kind of thing for a long time," he said Wednesday.

However, the legislation will not pass before the fall election because the House is ready to rise for the summer. As the election approaches, the proposed law will be part of the Conservatives overall offering to Canadians, McColeman said.

"Our government and party believes in public safety in a big way," he said.

McColeman said he disagrees with those who may argue that mandatory minimum sentences are unfair or unjust.

"What I see is a wave of victimization" by those who get behind the wheel intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, he said.

"If we don't impose a basic minimum penalty" and allow offenders to walk out of court, "that would be absolutely wrong in my opinion," he said.

"A mandatory minimum is appropriate. If you're behind the wheel of a car and you're intoxicated, you are essentially in the same situation as someone pointing a gun at somebody," McColeman said. "You're in control of a very dangerous weapon."

Source: Brantford Expositor

Last updated on: 2015-06-22 | Link to this post