Jun 18, 2015 - SUDBURY FAMILIES BACK TOUGHER SENTENCING FOR DRUNK DRIVING

In this file photo, Bela Ravi signs the first membership in the Impact 6/21 foundation at its first AGM recently. Looking on are former Sudbury Star publisher and supporter David Kilgour, Gerry Lougheed Jr, Lisa Jelley, Jocelyn Philippe and Corinne Lamoureux. The Impact 6/21 Foundation was formed to honour the memories of Caitlin Jelley, Jazmine Houle and Steven Philippe and to prevent impaired driving

Nicholas Piovesan spent seven years in jail for running down three teens after a night of drinking, but that wasn't long enough for Lisa Jelley.

Jelley's daughter Caitlin, along with Jazmine Houle and Steven Philippe were killed when Piovesan, then 26, struck them with his car as they walked along the side of Municipal Road 80 in Hanmer on June 21, 2009.

He was released in May.

"I've always said that whether he served one day or 100 years, it's not going to change the fact of what he did and it's not going to bring our children back," said Jelley, whose group, Impact 6/21, is preparing to mark the anniversary of the teens' deaths with its annual memorial walk this weekend. "But at the same time, it felt unjust that it was only seven years. And now today, he's out and here we are, preparing for another walk."

Impaired drivers who cause death may remain behind bars longer, however, if the federal government gets its way. Justice Minister Peter MacKay proposed a new law Tuesday that would toughen penalties for drunk drivers who kill.

The bill introduces a six-year mandatory minimum sentence for impaired drivers who cause death, a measure called for by many victims' families and anti-drunk driving groups.

"It's a basic premise of law that Canadians should feel safe and those that break the law should be punished for doing so," MacKay said at a press conference at Ottawa police headquarters.

The proposed law, called the Dangerous and Impaired Driving Act, would double the maximum penalties for impaired driving from five to 10 years behind bars, while the maximum penalty for impaired driving causing bodily harm would be increased from 10 to 14 years in prison.

Upon hearing about the bill Wednesday, Jelley was enthusiastic in her support.

"I would think that would be awesome if they could pass something like that," she said. "Reflecting on our case, he was handed seven years for three (deaths) and that was a big thing. That was the longest sentence ever handed out in Canada for the same crime, and it just seems like such a short amount of time for what he actually did.

"Understanding that judges can rule only on precedent, however, he did the best he could and (if he gave out a longer sentence) it would have been appealed and overturned anyway, right? So hearing they're proposing a six-year minimum, that's great news."

The legislation won't pass before the federal election this fall, as the house is ready to rise for the summer and will not return before Canadians go to the polls. MacKay called the bill is a "placeholder" and said he hopes the next government will see it through.

Michael Venturi, a lawyer at Weaver-Simmons in Sudbury who handles many impaired driving cases, believe the legislation is politically motivated and may do little to curb drinking and driving.

He believes judges should have more say in determining sentences, because they're able to take an offender's individual circumstances into account.

"I don't have any favour for a mandatory minimum penalty," Venturi said. "We've seen them a lot in the last several years; they've done them for sexual interference, child pornography, firearms - they've adopted these mandatory minimums and what that does, it really takes the human aspect out of sentencing. Judges are more than capable of hearing facts, hearing case law on those facts and coming up with a just sentence. That's their job and they're very good at it.

"While society has an interest, obviously, in punishing those who offend, especially if a life is taken or a child is harmed. We understand those things. But sentencing is not always as black and white as the offence. There are always circumstances that affect that person - there may be mental health issues, intellectual development issues, there may be family background, or just the circumstances of the facts themselves.

"Sentencing is not vengeance, sentencing is balance. To automatically stamp six years on anything, it takes the humanity out of sentencing and out of the judicial process. What you end up with is this fast-food, drive-through mentality - this is what it's worth and go. I believe everyone is entitled to their defence, but everyone's entitled to having their particular situation assessed."

Ron Roy is chair of Action Sudbury, a not-for-profit community organization with a goal of eliminating tragedy caused by impaired drivers.

He's not convinced the proposed legislation would act as a deterrent, but could end up shifting the focus to avoiding capture or conviction.

"If you're looking at the justice system, maybe they'll be looking at a way to get the accused off," Roy said. "You look at a family man, a guy with five or six kids, who knows he's looking at five years minimum, maybe they're going to be looking at ways to get him off, so it might be harder to convict people. I don't think you'll see too many people pleading guilty.

"People who are involved in an accident, if they know they're going to jail for five years, are they liable to stay at the scene or flee? If I know I'm going to jail for five years, I'm not necessarily staying around. If police are pursuing them, are they going to try and get away and in so doing, will they endanger the public and police officers? Put yourself in that situation. What choices are you going to make, especially if you've been drinking?"

He'd like to see more emphasis on prevention and on gaining insight into why people keep driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or while distracted.

"There's nobody who's not aware of it," Roy said. "My question is why are we not finding our from people why they're still doing it? What button are we not pushing?"


Sombre anniversary


The three Valley East teens were killed on Father's Day in 2009 and once again, the anniversary of the tragedy will fall on Father's Day weekend this year.

"It's not more significant, but it's like, 'Oh my God, here we are again,'" Jelley said. "It's a sad thing that Father's Day has to be associated with and for the fathers of these kids, that's going to be a little more difficult for them and for the rest of us, too, thinking of their feelings."

To change the tone of the weekend, at least in part, a soap box derby has been organized for the site of the crash on Saturday, one day before the walk itself.

"That's definitely to try and put something happy into the weekend, to watch the kids enjoy that exact stretch of road and do something that's going to be fun," Jelley said. "There should be lots of laughter and that helps."

She expressed gratitude to the Mayor Brian Bigger for proclaiming Impact 6/21 Memorial Weekend in Greater Sudbury.

Jelley is always upset by reports of impaired driving, but she's confident the group is making an impact in the community based on personal stories from those who choose not to drink and drive.

"There's a different attitude that we see on a daily basis," she said. "We hear stories of people who say 'because we heard you speak,' or 'because we heard about you guys,' it changed this person's outlook. We do hear positive things like that, which is good, because that's what keeps us going."

For more information, visit impact621.org or find their upcoming events on Facebook.

Source: The Sudbury Star


 

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