Slime on car crashes in New Brunswick
On a recent morning in January, I drove along the southern coast of New Brunswick in a white Mercedes Benz.
As the sun rose, the windshield wipers were blinking, the window sills were ruffled, and the steering wheel was on the edge of rolling white.
But I was still thinking about the cars I had been driving the previous day.
A couple of hours earlier, my driver’s license had been revoked for being a habitual drunk.
“What do you think of this?”
I asked a friend.
“Is it going to get better?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied.
In the blink of an eye, I was back in the car, my headlights off and my front seats folded.
I was also back in Canada, but in a state of shock.
A year earlier, a car driver in Quebec was charged with the manslaughter of a 20-year-old man in a parking lot in Montreal.
And two weeks ago, in the U.K., a woman was found guilty of the manslaughter in a case that has raised questions about what it means to be a Canadian.
In Canada, the issue of impaired driving is far more complex than it might seem.
As in the United States, impaired driving occurs when the driver is impaired from other drugs, or alcohol, or by a combination of these substances.
“You don’t just hit a guy on the head,” said Derek Pritchard, a professor of criminal justice at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Pritich is one of Canada’s foremost experts on impaired driving.
In Ontario, the Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario’s chief criminal lawyer, said the criminal code does not have any criminal provision for impaired driving and it’s up to the Crown to decide whether or not it should.
In Quebec, where the province’s impaired driving laws were first implemented in 2004, the province also has a provision for those under the age of 18, and is considering adding that to the criminal codes.
While Ontario and Quebec have strict impaired driving legislation, there are no federal standards or guidelines for driving.
It’s a problem that could lead to a significant spike in impaired driving charges.
“I would imagine we could see more cases of impaired drivers being charged for these types of events,” said Pritick, whose book, Driving Under the Influence, is about how we can make our roads safer for all Canadians.
In many countries around the world, the idea of driving under the influence of alcohol is a common theme, and even more so in the Western Hemisphere, where it’s been a growing problem for decades.
“The trend is there, so it’s a concern,” said Paul Bussard, a Canadian police expert at the University of Guelph.
“But it’s not a new phenomenon.”
There are now nearly 50,000 people in Canada who have been found impaired, according to Statistics Canada.
Some of them were found after having their driving licences revoked, while others were found driving under a suspended licence.
In both cases, it’s usually the combination of other drugs or alcohol that is to blame.
But in Canada — where impaired driving convictions are up by roughly 30 per cent over the past two years — it is unclear how the country’s laws are being applied.
What’s causing the increase?
As in other countries around it, impaired drivers have been disproportionately affected by the introduction of new laws, particularly in Quebec, a province with more than 20 per cent of the population.
That has been reflected in the number of impaired convictions in the province.
According to statistics provided by Quebec’s Ministry of Justice, there were 1,827 impaired driving offences recorded in the first six months of this year, a 22 per cent increase over the same period last year.
That’s a 25 per cent jump, or 957, from the same time last year, but still well short of the nearly 300,000 cases of intoxication reported in Canada in 2011.
“There’s a lot of concern that we’ve gone too far in our approach to the problem, and that we’re going to continue to have these high-profile cases where people get in their cars and drive drunk,” said Bussards University of Ottawa criminologist, Professor Daniel Gagnon.
He pointed to a recent court case in Quebec that led to a four-year sentence for a 22-year old man after a woman in his car crashed into a tree, killing her.
The woman was driving under her licence, but was later found not guilty of manslaughter.
While Busses statistics show the number and severity of impaired vehicle convictions has remained relatively stable, the number has increased from 3,624 in 2011 to 4,818 in 2012, and to 4.5 million in 2013.
The number of drivers under the drug or alcohol impairment threshold has also increased.
In 2011, the threshold was set at 0.08.
The last time that threshold was raised was in 2008.
While the number is still low, Busss figures suggest it could be rising.