Accidents caused by drunk drivers continue to claim lives in Canada, and that’s not going to change until the penalties for doing so become more severe.

That’s the stance of Families For Justice, a group that has banded together in light of losing loved ones to drunk driving accidents. In facing their immeasurable grief, mothers like Sheri Arsenault and Markita Hunt-Kaulius have found the motivation to fight for change so that other parents can be spared the pain of losing a child.

That fight has taken the form of a petition that calls for harsher penalties for drunk drivers who cause bodily harm or kill pedestrians or other drivers. Originated by Hunt-Kaulius, the petition (which has collected over 18,000 signatures to date) calls for six specific changes to drunk driving laws and the Criminal Code of Canada designed to hold drunk drivers more accountable for their actions and to act as a deterrent for those who might drive drunk in the future.

Changes suggested in the petition include; the charge of ‘impaired driving causing death’ to be changed to the offence of ‘vehicular manslaughter’; an automatic one-year driving prohibition for anyone arrested and convicted of impaired driving; a minimum mandatory sentence of two years imprisonment for anyone convicted of causing bodily harm while impaired; a minimum of five years for anyone convicted of driving impaired and causing a collision that results in a death; an additional one year sentence if the individual flees the scene of an accident; and two additional years for someone who flees the scene of a fatal accident.

Hunt-Kaulius launched the petition after her daughter was killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, and the cause was picked up by Arsenault after her son and two of his friends were killed by a drunk driver in 2011.

Both are disappointed by the response of the justice system to their tragedies.

“I’ve been to court five times and (the accused) hasn’t given a plea yet. He’s never had to appear or be inconvenienced once. If it does go to trial, it could be in 2014,” Arsenault said.

The slow wheels of justice were also a concern to Hunt-Kaulius, though the accused in her daughter’s case was finally sentenced in December. But the woman who ran a red light and t-boned her daughter’s vehicle, and then fled the scene, was only sentenced to 37 months in jail.

Though her daughter is gone forever, and the lives of her family and friends have been forever altered, the perpetrator will be able to resume hers in just over three years.

“The victim has no rights; it’s all the accused,” said Hunt-Kaulius, who believes the punishment for drunk driving is just not severe enough to deter people like the woman who struck her daughter.

“There is not much of a deterrent out there. People are literally getting away with murder.”

Though life in prison is an option in the Canadian legal system, to Arsenault’s knowledge, it has never been given to a drunk driver. What she sees (and reads about) are drunk drivers who have caused fatal accidents being sentenced to a handful of years in prison, and often serving just a fraction of their sentences.

That’s why the petition stresses the need for minimum sentences.

Both Arsenault and Hunt-Kaulius have met with Members of Parliament (in Alberta and British Columbia, respectively) and both want their voices heard in Ottawa.

“We want a meeting with (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada) Rob Nicholson. We want it explained to us why so little (value) is put on human lives,” said Arsenault. “How can someone kill three young boys and possibly not go to jail for a long time? Without the deterrent of punishment that fits the crime, people don’t take it seriously. That’s the problem.”

If the changes outlined in their petition are implemented, those behind Families For Justice believe drivers will think twice before getting behind the wheel after a night at the bar, or otherwise testing their limits when imbibing. Arsenault likens it to how nobody would fasten their seatbelts if the penalty for not doing so was just a couple of dollars.

“Nothing can bring our boys back, but we believe future lives can be saved,” she said. “In the name of my son, this will be a powerful legacy to leave behind; that he inspired me to do something. This is a mission.”

Hunt-Kaulius feels the same.

“Impaired driving is the number one criminal cause of death in Canada, and every one of them is preventable. It’s not a disease and it’s not an accident, it’s murder, and we have to learn to deal with that fact,” she said. “We’re going to do this until the laws are changed.”

For more on the petition, click here

Source:  Athabasca Advocate


Last updated on: 2013-01-15 | Link to this post