there is anything good to take away from the impaired driving conviction of Don McMorris, it might be that he didn’t get away with it.

Not so long ago, a politician caught drunk behind the wheel in Saskatchewan would have been driven home, with no charges filed.

That’s more or less what happened as late as 2009 after Don Cody, who was then the mayor of Prince Albert, was driving erratically and pulled over by police. The two constables at the scene properly arrested Cody, in spite of his do-you-know-who-I-am bluster, and took him to the city police station for a breath test, but the test was never administered. Instead, without any charges filed, Cody got a ride home from a police inspector, stopping on the way at the police chief’s home so Cody could complain.

With the arrest already on record, however, and the constables courageously standing their ground, there could be no cover-up. Cody eventually was charged and convicted of impaired driving after Regina police were brought in to investigate. For caving in to political power, two hitherto respected officers with the Prince Albert service, the inspector and a sergeant, were convicted of obstruction and lost their jobs, while the chief retired soon thereafter.

It was back in the 1980s in Saskatoon that a blithering drunk Queen’s Bench judge, since deceased, drove his car at a high rate of speed off a freeway ramp, hurtling into the parking lot below. Only by sheer good luck was no one killed or injured. The judge was arrested and charged by officers at the scene, but the charge was not made public by police brass. Covered up is another way of saying it.

From the police station into the courthouse, the covering up continued. When the judge was to appear in provincial court to plead guilty, the charge was not printed on the daily docket made available to court reporters. The hearing was in a little-used courtroom, at a time when no one would be around. It was all to be kept quiet.

It might have worked, too, but for the numerous police officers further down the food chain who called to tip off the press. They thought the conviction should be celebrated, not supressed. Their calls signalled the beginning of the end of special treatment.

Who knows how many other such cases we never did publish because we never heard of them? Quite a few, I am guessing. There always was a feeling among reporters that the upper echelons got special treatment, at least when it came to drunk driving. Prominent journalists might have received lenient treatment as well in those days, but I doubt it. Then, as now, authorities mostly don’t like journalists and would not trust them to repay an illicit favour.

What has changed are the procedures for arresting and charging VIPs. They now seem to be treated like everyone else, if not worse. The charge against McMorris last month was made public by the RCMP within hours of his arrest, while specific impaired driving charges usually go unmentioned. His guilty plea and conviction this week could not have been more exhaustively covered or more widely reported by a media that usually overlooks impaired driving cases. Of course, most of them don’t involve the deputy premier and minister responsible for Saskatchewan’s liquor and driving insurance monopolies.

Only days before his arrest, McMorris was announcing plans to crack down on a provincial scourge of drunk drivers. It seems to be working, too, but probably not as he intended.

McMorris also gets to have the circumstances of his arrest made hugely public. They are just short of shocking. With a blood-alcohol level two and a half times the legal limit, before noon on a weekday, in a government car, he was all over the highway between Regina and Fort Qu’Appelle. Two other drivers called police, who, before they could intervene, watched him almost rear-end another vehicle.

When McMorris was stopped and tried to get out of his car, according to police, he had to be physically prevented from swinging the car door into traffic lane. In short, he was a drunken menace, exactly the kind of driver he so recently denounced.

At least McMorris’ case confirms that no one anymore is protected from the legal, social and professional consequences of drunk driving. He’s out of cabinet, out of caucus, in bad odour across the province and facing a year without driving and a $1,800 fine. He will sit in the legislature in a corner by himself on the opposition side. From all indications, he could not be more ashamed.

His public flagellation, I suspect, will do as much to discourage drunk driving as his ministerial pronouncements ever did.

Source: The Star Phoenix

Last updated on: 2016-09-12 | Link to this post