Canadians don’t believe in the right to bear arms, but they sure do believe in the right to drive a car, even for those who’ve proven to be a menace. It’s a strange dichotomy, because whether you die because you’ve been shot or you die because someone ran you over, you’re still dead. Our courts don’t see it that way.
In Canada, driving is a right, not a privilege. It’s one many take for granted.
Recently, the OPP arrested a 19-year-old driver for going 246 km/h on a winter highway. Apparently, he wanted to see how fast his friend’s Audi could go. He had his licence suspended for seven days, and his friend’s vehicle was impounded for a week.
Meanwhile in Kitchener, an 18-year-old was caught doing 111 km/h in a 50 zone. He was hit with impaired- and stunt-driving charges, along with violating G2 licence alcohol conditions. A driver who went 180 km/h on the Queen Elizabeth Expressway last fall was fined $4,000 and banned from driving for 12 months.
I could fill this column with similar examples of irresponsible, potentially lethal driving, and they would have one thing in common – all these drivers will eventually get to drive again. In Canada, lifetime bans are only handed out to repeat offenders. They’re tough to get. I mean, you really have to rack up the convictions – you know, seven DUIs, a dozen careless-driving convictions ...
Which leads to the question: Why?
Why shouldn’t people who drive dangerously be banned from driving for life? We’re not cutting off a limb. We’re not sending them to prison. We’re just saying “from now on, take the bus.”
For instance, the 19-year-old who drove 246 km/h should receive a lifetime driving ban. Anyone who goes that fast has proven they’re not fit to drive. They should not get a second chance to mend their ways. And yet, he’s likely to get a modest fine and a few months suspension, then he’ll be back on the road.
There’s no mystery as to why the justice system is so lax. Like solitary confinement, judges consider a lifetime driving ban to be cruel and unusual punishment. Take, for instance, the case of Albertan Joshua Cody Mitchell, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter and of hit-and-run for running over and killing a gas station attendant in June 2015. In October 2018, the Alberta Court of Appeal reduced his lifetime driving ban to 10 years.
“For a person still in his 20s, this is not, in our view, realistic and it serves no compelling ... purpose,” wrote the judges, adding, “It does not depreciate the magnitude of his offence to recognize that the appellant will be a different person in the years to come and should be encouraged to live a constructive life then."
A constructive life?
What has that got to do with driving? How does not being able to drive ruin a person’s chance at a “constructive life?”
Are we to understand that a person who takes the bus can’t live a “constructive life?”
This is heartbreaking. In 2017, riders took 533.2 million trips on the TTC. Just think of all those “unconstructive lives” being lived – and that’s not including all the other “unconstructive” lost souls biking and walking.
Can you think of a more unimaginable torture than – gasp – killing someone and not being allowed to drive again?
Bans are there to protect not only the public, but the driver. Mitchell had been charged with dangerous driving in January 2015. He had a habit of ignoring the law (the truck he was driving was stolen), but it’s possible that if he had been banned in January, the killing would not have happened.
In 2015, drunk driver Marco Muzzo killed three children and their grandfather. Muzzo had a history of Highway Traffic Act violations that began in 2003. At his trial, the judge noted, “On 10 occasions, he was found guilty of speeding, most recently in August 2013. On two other occasions, in November 2012 and May 2015, he was found guilty of other driving infractions.” If he had been subject to a driving ban for any of those infractions, then his victims would be alive and he might be living the privileged life that was laid out for him. Instead, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His licence will be suspended for 12 years following his release. In Canada, even a man who kills four people while driving drunk can get behind the wheel again.
There is a way to avoid such senseless tragedy. The courts need to start banning the street racers and drunk drivers before they do harm. They need to ban them quickly, after one or two infractions. The courts must recognize the automobile as the weapon it becomes in irresponsible hands and take the keys away for good.
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