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Dawn Muzzo, centre, mother of accused drunk driver Marco Muzzo, and his fiancee Taryn Hampton, centre right, arrive at court in Newmarket, Ont., on Tuesday, March 29, 2016.Nathan Denette/The Associated Press

Marco Muzzo has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for impaired driving causing four deaths, the toughest penalty for a drunk driver with no previous criminal record in recent Canadian history.

The sentence reflects not only the horrific consequences of Mr. Muzzo's decision to drink and drive on his way home from a bachelor party – an entire generation of one family decimated, as Ontario Superior Court Justice Michelle Fuerst put it – but also a gradual rise in sentences over the past several years.

Reacting to the sentence, Jennifer Neville-Lake, mother of the three children aged 9, 5 and 2 who were killed, and whose father was also killed, told reporters through bitter tears: "His sentence is 10 years and none of my children saw 10 years."

In a plea to others to learn from what Mr. Muzzo had done, she said: "This was a choice made by an individual. Choices are actions that have consequences. … Just please, keep in mind, when you choose to drink and drive, you're hurting other families, you're killing someone else's babies, like mine were killed, like all of mine were killed. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, just after four o'clock. Please don't do that."

The 29-year-old Mr. Muzzo, with his fiancée sitting near the prisoner's box, showed no emotion when Justice Fuerst pronounced sentence. Afterward, the scion of billionaire developers looked to his mother, Dawn Muzzo, who touched her heart. His lawyer, Brian Greenspan, told reporters he accepted the sentence.

Impaired driving, Justice Fuerst said, is a crime committed by otherwise law-abiding people, so a strong penalty is a potential deterrent. Even so, the deterrent has often failed, she said.

"For as long as Mr. Muzzo has been alive, courts have warned about the consequences of impaired driving. Yet the message escaped him. It is important it does not escape others."

She said Mr. Muzzo, with 10 speeding infractions on his record, had shown himself to be an irresponsible driver before he made the "selfish" decision on Sept. 27 to drive home from the airport, though he could have sought a taxi or limousine, or friends or family. His blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.

The 10-year sentence, followed by a 12-year driving ban, comes after Mr. Muzzo pleaded guilty at an early stage, a plea that legal observers say helped keep his sentence from going higher still. In future cases in which accused drunk drivers plead not guilty, sentences could leapfrog Mr. Muzzo's.

The maximum penalty is life in prison. Mr. Greenspan had asked for eight years, and Crown attorney Paul Tait for 10 to 12. In explaining why she gave 10 years, Justice Fuerst said: "The enormous harm caused by Mr. Muzzo is extraordinary. Mr. Muzzo made victims of four generations of one family." She mentioned that Ms. Neville-Lake said in her victim-impact statement that she sees no purpose in living. But she also said it is clear from the 92 letters from family, friends and associates that Mr. Muzzo is of good character, and he has shown remorse.

Sentencing ranges for impaired drivers who kill are moving upward in several provinces, according to an Alberta Court of Appeal ruling last year. A previous high of eight years for a first offender was upheld by Ontario's top court in 2011 after drunk driver Andrew Kummer killed three, including two 12-year-olds trapped in a burning vehicle.

Sentences before 2007, when first-time offender Rob Ramage, a former NHL star, received four years for a drunken crash that killed a passenger, no longer matter as precedents, as courts are now tougher on such crimes, Justice Fuerst said.

Federal prisoners spend up to 15 days in provincial jail before being transferred to a federal assessment centre (almost certainly in Mr. Muzzo's case at the medium-security Joyceville Institution in Kingston). There, they spend up to 90 days while being classified and meeting with corrections staff to develop an individualized plan, including programs to take and goals to achieve, according to Kyle Lawlor, a spokesman for Correctional Service Canada. There is a good chance Mr. Muzzo will then be transferred directly to the minimum-security wing at Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ont., where residents live in one of five townhouse-style units, and there are no fences.

Critics say the sentence is unlikely to be a deterrent. Andrew Murie, chief executive officer of MADD Canada, which campaigns against impaired driving, said sentences such as Mr. Muzzo's are "zero deterrent on people driving impaired. Most people that drive impaired never think they're going to get caught." What helps deter others, he said, is the likelihood of getting caught and the swiftness of penalties, such as roadside impoundment of vehicles.

Mr. Muzzo received 1.5 days credit for each day he has been in jail, leaving him nine years and four months to serve; he will be eligible for full parole just after the three-year mark, and day parole six months before that.

"Ten years is a significant amount of time for an offender where the mental intent, the mental requirement to seek to kill someone, doesn't exist," said Antonietta Raviele, a former assistant Crown attorney.

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