Mothers call for stiffer impaired driving laws

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The day that Grace Pesa’s son Francis died as a result of an impaired driver is still so vivid in the grieving mothers memory.

Her family had just returned home from the Philippines and Francis and his girlfriend were on their way out for dinner. The 20-year-olds vehicle was struck on New Year’s Day 2014 by an impaired driver on Metis Trail. He died later in the hospital.

On Sunday in St. Albert, Pesa joined two other Alberta mothers, who lost their sons to impaired drivers, to ask the federal government to change a bill that would potentially reduce sentences for impaired drivers.

If the federal bill passes without amendments, a summary conviction for impaired driving causing death will carry a maximum sentence of two years less a day or a fine.

Pesa drove to St. Albert from Calgary for the press conference and was joined by Sage Morin and Sherri Arsenault, who both lost their sons to impaired drivers. They want stiffer sentences.

“If I don’t speak, who would? And if I don’t come here, it’s like forgetting about my Francis,” the mother said.

St. Albert MP Michael Cooper, who is deputy justice critic, hosted the trio and together they called for changes to bill C-75. Cooper said the sentences would “water down” sentences for impaired drivers. He noted the changes are done to speed up the criminal justice system but the bill is harmful to victims and their families.

“More impaired drivers are going to be able to walk away virtually scot-free,” Cooper said.

The large omnibus bill would see sweeping changes to the Criminal Code, which would allow impaired driving offences to be sentences as either indictable or summary convictions and allow for smaller sentences for the crime.

Arsenault lost her son Bradley in 2011 when an impaired driver struck his vehicle on the highway near Beaumont.

“The tears are always behind our eyes,” Arsenault said.

The mother has been advocating for tougher sentences for impaired drivers. She spoke before the Senate Justice Committee earlier this year. She would like to see a mandatory minimum sentence for five years for anyone who kills someone while driving impaired.

Morin lost her two-year-son while her family was dining on a patio in 2013. Impaired driver Richard Suter drove his SUV through the restaurant patio and killed her young son Geo.

Suter was initially sentenced to four months in jail for failing to provide a breath sample after the crash killed Morin’s toddler. After a Crown appeal, Suter was given 26 months behind bars.

The Crown appealed that sentence to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which handed Suter a new term of 26 months’ incarceration.

“We are actual, real people, real lives that are affected by these laws,” Morin said.

Morin is disappointed that the changes to impaired driving laws are lumped together in an omnibus criminal justice bill and said the matter should be handled separately.

The bill will likely head to the federal justice committee in the fall where Cooper said he will propose amendments to the bill.

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.