Darya Selinevich has a problem. The 27-year-old Richmond Hill, Ont. resident likes to drink and drive, and that’s a bit of an understatement.
On Aug 6, she pleaded guilty to criminal charges of impaired driving and driving while disqualified. The judge sentenced her to 18 months in jail and ordered her to take alcohol-addiction counselling. When she is released, she will have a three-year probation and a ten-year driving ban, which means she could be back on the road in as little as a year.
In June 2015, she killed a 44-year-old cyclist while drunk driving. Selinevich, then 22, was doing around 110 km/h in a 60 km/h zone and then sped off despite the fact that parts of her victim’s body were embedded in her windshield. As police pursed her, she increased her speed to 200 km/h, crashing her car before fleeing on foot and finally being apprehended.
It wasn’t her first drunk-driving incident. She had been convicted a month earlier and was under a one-year driving ban. The courts had also fined her $1,200. But she kept driving, she later testified, because “she had to get around.”
In 2016, she pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death, failing to stop at the scene of an accident, failing to stop for police, refusing to provide a breath sample and driving while disqualified. She was sentenced to seven years, which was immediately reduced to four and a half, and eventually she was out on full parole in 2018. She vowed never to drink again.
On June 21 however, witnesses reported a car driving erratically on Highway 400 in Toronto. Police located the vehicle and pulled it over. Selinevich was behind the wheel. She was found to have twice the legal limit in her system and a dozen beer empties in her car. She was charged with five counts of driving while prohibited and two counts of driving under suspension, plus other impaired-driving-related charges.
The worst part is that cases like Selinevich aren’t unusual, and unlike someone who gets wasted and waves a loaded pistol around on their front lawn, these offenders often get away with it over and over again.
In March, for instance, Ontarian Lorne Michael Bruder, 57, was convicted of his eighth and ninth drinking-and-driving offences. He’s been sentenced to a whopping 10 months. In February, 33-year-old Jeffrey Joseph Sacobie from New Brunswick was charged with impaired operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm and driving while prohibited. At the time of his collision, which caused his passenger to fly out the window, sustaining serious injuries, Sacobie was under a four-year driving ban and had seven previous convictions for impaired driving. Maybe these guys should get DUI points cards? After a certain number of convictions, they could get a free coffee.
Alcoholism is a disease. It’s an awful, devastating disease. However, if a person suffering from alcoholism is either unwilling or unable to stay out of the drivers’ seat while drunk, why should society pay the price?
If only Canada had a legal designation for someone who has been convicted of a serious personal injury offence and constitutes a threat to the life, safety or physical and mental well-being of other persons. Someone who shows a pattern of repetitive behaviour for which he or she has been convicted.
In fact, we already do. It’s called being a “dangerous offender.”
The designation carries with it an indeterminate sentence with no chance of parole for seven years. The dangerous offender designation has been reserved for the worst sorts of violent and sexually violent criminals. In 2009, crown prosecutors tried to have Quebec resident Roger Walsh designated as a dangerous offender. A DUI frequent flyer, Walsh had racked up 19 impaired-driving-related convictions and had killed a woman while drunk driving. He received a life sentence but not the designation. Generally, the thinking has been that because drunk drivers don’t mean to kill people, they shouldn’t be designated dangerous offenders.
The thing is, not intending to kill them doesn’t make drunk-driving victims any less dead.
Of course, the legal ramifications for designating habitual drunk drivers as dangerous offenders would be enormous. The susceptibility to abuse would be rife. The crown could misuse it. The designation would place punishment over rehabilitation. Right now, as they read this, lawyers around the country, outraged by my facile take, are spitting up their coffee and hurling expletives around their kitchens.
Relax, everyone. I’m just a columnist, a columnist who is tired of having to write about innocent people being killed by drunk drivers. Habitual drunk drivers and habitual dangerous drivers need to be off the streets. Their freedom should not come at the price of somebody else’s life. The status quo is not enough.
Besides, the status quo didn’t help Darya Selinevich in 2015 with her first conviction. As twisted as it may sound, she is a victim too. She was a binge drinker, a condition that was said to be triggered, in part, by the deaths of four friends within two years. A stronger intervention at her first conviction might have prevented future carnage. Instead she was slapped with a driving ban that was all too easy to ignore.
When it comes to habitual drunk drivers, it’s their crime and our punishment.
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