Calls for harsher sentences for impaired drivers grew after the sentencing of a Saskatchewan man who killed two teens and seriously injured a third, echoing the outcome of a similar crash that happened 10 years ago in the Edmonton region.
Christopher Rempel was sentenced to five years behind bars followed by a five-year driving prohibition for his role in a collision near Fort Saskatchewan last year.
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Keithan Peters, 16, and 17-year-old Alexandra Ollington of Sherwood Park, Alta., were killed in the crash on Highway 21 just north of Township Road 542 on Sept. 17, 2020.
Morgan Maltby, 15, was seriously injured.
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“We had a meeting beforehand what the [submission for sentencing] would be. When I first heard about it, the anger and rage in me was just indescribable,” said Peters’ mother Lisa Fenez.
In November 2011, three teenagers were killed in a drunk-driving crash south of Edmonton near Beaumont. Jonathan Pratt was later convicted in all three of their deaths, and sentenced to an eight years.
Pratt was doing almost 200 km/h when his truck slammed into the vehicle carrying three young men, Bradley Arsenault, 18, Thaddeus Lake, 22, and Kole Novak, 18. Pratt had a blood alcohol level two-and-a-half times the legal limit.
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Sheri Arsenault, Bradley’s mother, has been advocating for tougher impaired driving laws for years. She said the outcome of the Rempel case is reminiscent of her own experience with the justice system.
“The sentencing remains the same — pathetically low for the seriousness of the crime,” she said. “It’s almost like a calculation [of the sentencing], it never changes. Even if every judge would just give one week more, we would be up to a decent sentence in a year.”
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She was disappointed when the Kenney government introduced legislation that added fines and penalties for first-time impaired drivers, but didn’t have them face a criminal charge.
“I’ve seen nothing but in the last eight years — federally and provincially — things going backwards,” she said.
“You almost can’t believe it that Canada’s Number 1 crime is still perceived as an accident.”
Criminal defense lawyer Ari Goldkind told Global News across Canada, there is trend of lesser and lighter sentences, rather than stricter ones — depending on demographics, income and background.
“Until someone takes a chance and goes a little bit harder… there won’t be a significant change to the sentencing principles absent parliament doing something or a judge going on a bit of a leap, but inviting the risk of a review — the risk of it being overturned or a parliamentary review.”
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He said the problem will not be taken seriously nationally until judges begin to put first-time impaired driving offenders behind bars.
“It can’t just be the cases when someone is killed that gets Canadians talking about how serious impaired driving continues to be,” he said.
Goldkind also underscored that people typically only serve one-third of the time behind bars they’re sentenced to.
“Ten years means three and a third. Fives years means less than two,” he explained. “Many Canadians hate that, but there are good reasons for it. If you’re not a public safety risk, (it’s) to reintegrate you into society.”
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Arsenault said she believes there needs to be tougher sentencing to deter the general public from drinking and driving in the first place.
“[The justice system] is stuck in this spot. It’s textbook. That, to me, is wrong,” Arsenault said.
“Until this happens to someone important… then it will change.
“My child was a nobody. That’s how the whole system makes us feel. The words are there from the judge, but the action [is not].”
Both mothers believe they will be fighting for stronger sentencing for many more years to come.
“I do wish to be out there and to have a voice,” Fenez said. “Unfortunately, I have to say this… but to help the next person who deals with this.”
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