OTTAWA – A Conservative MP has tabled a bill in parliament that could radically change the sentencing for drivers who kill other people while drunk behind the wheel.
Langley MP Mark Warawa introduced Bill C-652 – dubbed Kassandra’s Law – on Feb. 2 that would change the criminal code from impaired driving causing death to vehicular homicide, making the penalty for conviction life imprisonment.
The driving force behind the bill is a group called Families for Justice, made up of people like Surrey woman Markita Kaulius, who lost her 22-year-old daughter Kassandra to a drunk driver in 2011.
Her killer, North Delta resident Natasha Warren, had consumed more than a bottle of wine before getting into her Ford Econoline van, according to evidence presented at her trial. She ran a red light at 103 kilometres an hour before striking Kassandra’s car, critically wounding her.
Warren ran away from the scene and conspired with her boyfriend to throw away
the car keys with a plan to report her vehicle stolen. She was later found by police with a blood-alcohol level that was still twice the legal limit for driving.
Warren served just two years of a 37-month sentence after pleading guilty to impaired driving causing death.
Kaulius has devoted the better part of the past three and a half years since Kassandra’s death toward collecting 87,000 signatures for tougher drunk driving penalties in the criminal code. She can rattle off the sobering statistics off the top of her head – 1,250 to 1,600 people die in Canada each year to impaired driving.
"Those are staggering figures when you think this is really a crime that is totally, 100 per cent preventable," said Kaulius, adding Canadians have had 30 years of education and awareness campaigns about drinking and driving but now it’s time to stiffen sentences.
Currently, the justice system gives out "nothing sentences" to impaired drivers and she has the stories of other Families for Justice members to back up that statement.
"We had two girls killed in 2009 and the judges gave the accused, who had two previous impaired driving charges, he gave
the fellow a $1,500 fine and seven weekends in jail."
Kaulius said those examples aren’t unusual, citing two other cases where impaired driving causing death resulted in a sentence of 90 days to be served on weekends.
Some families are reportedly upset the text of Bill C-652 doesn’t include a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for vehicular homicide, but Kaulius said she’s determined to keep fighting for that change.
Warawa said he’s hoping the Harper Government will soon table complimentary legislation to deal with mandatory minimums.
"The minister’s (Peter MacKay) been working very hard on that, and I’ve been working with him," said Warawa via phone from Ottawa. "There’s this working group that’s been working with Families for Justice."
The Langley MP said it was saddening to learn that vehicular homicide is the number one criminal cause of death in Canada.
"Every story is heart-wrenching and it
shouldn’t be happening when people have lots of choices other than driving their own vehicle," he added.
Laurel Middelaer, whose four-year-old daughter Alexa was killed by drunk driver Carol Berner in 2008, said B.C. has found success preventing drunk driving death through tougher legislation.
The Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP) program – also known as Alexa’s Law – was introduced in 2010 carrying a litany of roadside suspensions of licenses and vehicle impounding for impaired drivers.
Middelaer said her family looked at vehicular homicide during the time they were seeking justice for Alexa, but thought changing federal legislation could take "many, many years." The family ultimately saw an opportunity for more immediate change with roadside prohibitions.
"We do know that consequences that are timely and predictable do change behaviour," said Middelaer. "And so there certainly is merit in looking at the vehicular homicide option."
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