I'd like to propose new legislation: a "19-Strikes Law." Put simply, the first 18 times drivers receive a prohibition for impaired driving, they get a stern warning. The 19th time, however, they get a stern warning and a curfew.
It's inspired by Suzanne Gurnell, 49, of Victoria, who racked up 19 prohibitions for impaired driving in the past seven years with three convictions.
Gurnell pleaded guilty to one count of dangerous driving and one count of driving while prohibited, according to the Victoria Times-Colonist. She'd been arrested after almost hitting a police cruiser. "She was so drunk that our officers didn't need to use a roadside screening device," Victoria Police spokesperson Graeme LeBlanc told Global News.
Gurnell was sentenced to a five-year driving ban and a nine-month conditional-sentence order (read: not jail). She must live under curfew, continue counselling and may not, according to her defence lawyer, "be found behind a driver's seat or in the possession of any car keys." That's like sentencing her to Netflix, Dr. Drew and Uber.
Gurnell may be a good person and maybe she'll never drink and drive again. But what if she does?
That's the thing about drunk driving – according to the Nepean, Ont.-based Traffic Injury Research Foundation, two-thirds of first-time offenders don't do it again, but the remaining third tend to do it a lot. And sometimes, they hurt someone. Take Saskatoon's Kyle Bradley Watson who, in 2013, hit a pedestrian and fled the scene. According to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Watson had a prior conviction from 2008, plus there'd been a charge in Alberta two months prior. Watson received 18 months. At his sentencing, he referred to almost killing a stranger with his truck as a "life lesson."
What if, instead of drunk driving, Gurnell had drunkenly brandished a pistol? In Canada, the minimum sentence for possession of a restricted weapon with ammunition is three years. That's more time than most people convicted of impaired driving causing death receive, despite the fact the maximum is life imprisonment. Example: 67-year-old Ronald Thistle, of St. John's, was recently sentenced to two years for killing a motorcyclist in 2013.
Why are we reluctant to severely punish habitual drunk drivers? One reason is when drunk drivers are sentenced they rhyme off a list of personal woes – marital breakup, job loss, addiction. And they're always sorry – the only thing alcoholics do almost as much as drink is apologize.
So let's all wish Gurnell well, maybe the 19th time will be the charm. But repeat offenders, and the judicial system that seems powerless to dissuade them, need to realize saying sorry won't fix it. Being sorry never brought someone back to life. If you want to drink yourself to death go ahead – just don't take anyone with you.
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