A Saskatchewan man has been convicted of driving while impaired for the 19th time, sparking calls for multiple offenders to be designated dangerous offenders.

“It’s by luck he hasn’t killed somebody,” said Andrew Murie, chief executive of MADD Canada.

Kenneth Obey’s repeat offences are an example of the system failing “miserably,” and it was an embarrassment for the courts to have someone back for their 19th impaired driving conviction.

“It’s disgusting that the system handles people like him in this fashion,” he said.

Obey was jailed for 3 1/2 years and banned from driving for 15 years at a provincial court in Fort Qu’Appelle in June.

“Mr. Obey’s record for drinking and driving offences is, frankly, shocking,” said Judge Barbara Tomkins.

Between June 1981 and December 2005, the man racked up 18 impaired driving convictions.

Andrew Murie, chief executive of MADD Canada

In the most recent case, he was arrested in August 2012 after police found his blood alcohol was 2 1/2 times the legal driving limit.

He had decided to get behind the wheel because his companion was also drunk and he thought it would be better for him to drive, said court documents.

The man’s problems with alcohol started when he was sexually abused at age 14 while attending a residential school. In the document outlining Judge Tomkins’ decision, she said took into consideration factors that have affected Obey’s life.

However, Mr. Murie said anyone who has racked up four or five drunk driving convictions should have received a dangerous offender or long-term offender designation. He also said Obey should have been given more time in prison.

“I think the Crown failed,” he said, adding the repeat offender was a “huge risk” to the community.

“Imagine the outrage if he killed someone?”

Other similar repeat offenders have caused fatalities in recent years.

After a night of heavy drinking in October 2008 in Quebec, Roger Walsh struck a woman in a wheelchair with his minivan.

Anee Khudaverdian was killed while walking her dog on her 47th birthday. After hitting her, Mr. Walsh drove for nearly 10 kilometres and only stopped when he went into a ditch.

This was his 19th impaired driving conviction.

The life sentence he received was the longest ever handed down in Canada for impaired driving, but still did not result in Walsh being declared a dangerous offender, as the prosecution had hoped.

Mr. Murie said he sees about 10 convictions a year of drivers who are in the double digits for driving while drunk

In 2010, Terry Naugle of Truro, N.S., was found guilty of impaired driving for the 23rd time after he sideswiped an SUV on a highway off-ramp. No one was hurt, but he was jailed for 8 1/2 years.

Prosecutor Cheryl Byard called him the “worst known offender” of impaired driving in Nova Scotia at the time.

Although organizations like MADD call for more jail time and dangerous offender labels for repeat offenders, others say this is not the answer.

Michael Weinrath, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg whose research has specialized in drunk driving, said offences like Obey’s are “horrendous,” but the punishment still needs to fit the crime.

“These guys are difficult,” he said. “[But] I don’t know how you justify locking them up for life just on the chance that they might end up drinking and driving and killing someone.”

Prof. Weinrath said his research showed most people convicted of drunk driving do not re-offend. Repeat “incorrigible” offenders like Obey are fairly rare.

The drinking and driving rate in Canada has dropped significantly since the mid-1980s, according to data from Statistics Canada, when stiffer penalties for drinking and driving were implemented.

However, in 2011 impaired driving was still the leading criminal cause of death in Canada, with drivers aged 20-24 having the highest rates of impaired driving.

Source: National Post


Last updated on: 2013-07-16 | Link to this post