Dear MP Housefather and honourable members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, thank you for allowing me to be here today to speak with all of you.
My name is Markita Kaulius. I am the founder and president of Families For Justice. I am here today representing thousands of Canadian families that have had our children and loved ones killed by impaired drivers in Canada.
On May 3, 2011, my 22-year-old daughter Kassandra went to the university to write a final exam towards her teaching degree. Later that day, she went out to coach a girls' softball team, and pitched a softball game herself that night. Kassandra left the park and was driving home when she was stopped at a red light. The red light turned green, and she proceeded into the intersection to make a left-hand turn. An impaired driver came speeding down the curb lane and accelerated through the intersection on a red light that had been red for 12 seconds. The driver got airborne over railroad tracks and slammed into my daughter's driver-side door, striking her at 103 kilometres an hour. Kassandra's car was sent up and over a median about 1,200 feet down the road, and debris was sent across four lanes of traffic. The driver got out of her car and went up to look at my daughter dying, then fled the scene of the collision. Kassandra never came home. She was killed in a catastrophic accident. I'm sorry, it was not an accident; it was a collision. She died from multiple injuries she received from being crushed to death at 103 kilometres an hour.
During that same year, 1,074 other innocent Canadians were killed, and over 62,000 people were injured in Canada by impaired drivers. Even with all the education and awareness campaigns we have had over the past 35 years, impaired driving is still the number one criminal cause of death in Canada.
Each year statistics show impaired driving causes the deaths of thousands of innocent people across this country. Statistics show on average between 1,200 to 1,500 people per year are killed by an impaired driver—that equates to about four to six people a day—and 190 a day are injured by impaired drivers in Canada.
Numerous lives are tragically cut short by impaired drivers who make the decision to be reckless in their actions. They make the wilful choice to put others at risk on our roadways and highways by driving while being impaired by either drugs or alcohol. Somewhere today in other communities, there is the next victim of impaired driving.
A speeding vehicle in the hands of an impaired driver becomes a 2,000 pound weapon. It is as much a lethal weapon in causing death as a loaded gun or a knife. The only difference is that the weapon of choice is different and the victims are at random on our roadways and highways, and it causes more severe injuries. It happens in every city and town across Canada. The deaths are all vehicular homicides, and the devastation to families is life changing.
Families For Justice has been lobbying the federal government in the form of several bills over the past six years. We supported Bill C-247 and Bill C-226, which were both voted down by the federal government, and over the past six years while we've been waiting for the past and present governments to make changes to laws in Canada, over 6,000 more innocent lives have been lost to impaired drivers in Canada.
In 2011, fatalities involving a drinking driver accounted for 33.6% of total deaths on Canada's roadways. The statistics reflect the growing rate of drug presence in drivers involved in fatal crashes as well. In fact, drugs are now more present than alcohol in drivers involved in fatal crashes.
An estimated 30% of impaired driving offences are by repeat offenders. These offenders are more likely to drink and drive frequently, often at higher breath alcohol concentration levels, and they have a history of prior convictions. Some have alcohol dependency issues.
Those with chronic dependency issues are often employed and driving through our neighbourhoods, through school and bus zones, in the morning rush hours with high blood alcohol levels from the previous night's drinking or drugging. They are also relatively resistant to changing their behaviour, as evidenced by their continued offending behaviour, even after they have faced penalties. Even though these offenders represent a relatively small proportion of the driving population, they account for nearly two-thirds, or 65%, of all alcohol-related driving fatalities and they were responsible for making 84% of all drinking and driving trips. In other words, they drink and drive more frequently than any other type of impaired driver.
We owe it to the lives lost and to the families to rededicate ourselves to the task of finding the most effective measures to finally put an end to impaired driving on our roads. Canadians are counting on the Government of Canada to not give in to the temptation to simply talk tough in the wake of these tragedies. We are counting on you to stop the next crash, the next injury, and the next death, and focus on effective deterrents. It is time now that we measured the progress of making real changes to Canada's impaired driving laws, not in the years that you have just had a discussion about it. This legislation will save lives and hold people accountable for their actions in committing crimes.
The impaired driving act was designed to address inconsistencies in the Criminal Code, harmonize and increase penalties for repeat offenders, simplify the burden of proof for establishing blood alcohol concentration, and speed up impaired driving related court cases. The legislation should contain important measures that are essential to combatting impaired driving, but there are still items that need to be addressed in this bill.
While we support many of the proposed changes in Bill C-46, we strongly feel there are two urgent changes that need to be considered and have not been addressed. Drivers of all ages still risk the chance and drive after consuming alcohol or taking drugs, and only very strict deterrents would impact the crucial thoughts of a driver before they drink or do drugs. Tougher laws must be implemented to enforce deterrence.
Families for Justice submitted over 117,000 names of Canadians on petitions asking the federal government to change the Criminal Code of Canada and the offence of impaired driving causing death. We ask that this offence be redefined as vehicular homicide as a result of impairment. We also do not see any mandatory minimum sentencing for anyone convicted of impaired driving causing a death, which was also requested on our petition from the Canadian public. We feel both these changes in the laws are very strong deterrents to add to Bill C-46. The driver has broken two driving laws: one, by driving impaired, and two, by causing the fatality of an innocent person.
We have the support of the B.C. chiefs of police, the Edmonton police, the RCMP, the Alberta Federation of Police, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and there isn't a first responder, a paramedic, a police officer, a fireman, or a citizen who doesn't hope that one day the number of tragic impaired driving collisions will stop.
Changing the Criminal Code of Canada would finally call this crime what it rightfully is, vehicular homicide as a result of impairment. Minimum mandatory sentencing would finally hold people accountable for their actions in committing crimes against society, and in causing the deaths of innocent people. With additional changes we propose in Bill C-46, it would become one of the most important pieces of legislation for public safety that would become law and affect Canadians now and for future generations.
For 16 years, the law has set 10 years' imprisonment for causing bodily harm and life imprisonment as the maximum punishment for impaired driving causing death. In Bill C-46, the maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing bodily harm would increase from 10 years to 14 years. For impaired driving causing death, the sentence has not changed. It says in the Criminal Code of Canada that a person is liable on conviction of the indictment to imprisonment for life for causing a death, but sadly, no judges ever give this sentence for causing death in impaired driving cases.
The average sentence for impaired driving causing death is two to four years. The actual amount of time served in a two-year to four-year sentence is six months to 12 months. That's it. You can raise the sentence on a piece of paper in the Criminal Code but the reality is the lengths of sentences are never given out by judges in Canada in impaired driving cases where death or multiple deaths have occurred. No one in Canada has ever received a life sentence in prison for causing the death of multiple family members.
The courts need to acknowledge that the deaths that arise from impaired driving are homicides. They are vehicular homicides. People are being killed by the reckless action of others who make the choice to put others at risk by driving while being impaired. There is no excuse in this day and age for anyone to drive impaired as every one of those deaths was 100% preventable.
Over the years, judges continue to give out low sentences and fines in impaired driving cases. Therefore, those cases become precedents for future sentences. A prosecutor recently told a friend of mine who is a police officer that only about 3% of cases actually ever make it to trial. After plea deals are done and charges are dropped, he said only about 3% actually make it to trial.
We have seen such sentences as a $100 fine, a $1,500 fine, seven weekends in jail, and these sentences were given out to a driver for his third offence for impaired driving. This time he killed two women. Basically he got a $750 fine per death and served three weeks in jail for killing. One of these women left six children orphaned. The pain and the suffering of that family will last a lifetime.
Another couple, Brad and Krista Howe, were killed in Red Deer, Alberta. They left five children orphaned as well. The impaired driver who killed them was given a two-year sentence and was released after serving only seven months in jail. He served three and a half months per death. We've seen sentences of $2,000 fines, 90 days to be served on weekends only, four months in jail. That driver is appealing his four-month conviction.
Entire families have been killed by impaired drivers: Catherine McKay killed Jordan Van de Vorst, his wife, his son Miguire, age two, and daughter Kamryn, age five, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The driver was convicted in 2016. It was her third impaired driving charge. She was sentenced to 10 years, and spent one month in jail. She was then sent to a healing lodge. Even the elders at the healing lodge shared with the deceased family that they didn't feel that was appropriate, that this woman should have spent some time in jail. She will come up for parole in February 2018 after serving 18 months out of a 10-year sentence. She will have served four and a half months per death.
Mr. Marco Muzzo killed three children in Vaughan, Ontario, Daniel, age nine, Harrison, age five, and Milly, age two, as well as their grandfather, and seriously injured the grandmother and aunt. In one fell swoop, he decimated an entire generation of the Neville-Lake family, its legacy and its future. Mr. Muzzo will come up for a parole hearing 18 months into his nine-year sentence. He will have served four and a half months per death. Jennifer and Edward Lake received a lifetime sentence of being without all three of their children.
Over the past several years an average sentence handed down for impaired driving has been two to four years. The average sentence actually served in jail is about six to 10 months.
We continually hear from the public that our justice system is broken and failing. Presently, victims feel that a human life is of no value in our criminal justice system and the victims are hardly considered. After attending many court cases over the last six and a half years, it appears in a court of law that often the investigations themselves are on trial and not the accused. The public feel there is a revolving door at the courthouses across Canada and that the courts are not holding people accountable for breaking the law and are depriving Canadians of their fundamental right to safety.
Parents have told us the message coming from our courts to Canadians is loud and clear and it is unmistakable: criminals have more rights than their victims. Even when writing a victim impact statement, victims have strict guidelines on what they are allowed to say and are limited on the number of pages they can write, while the accused is allowed all of the character references they can submit to court. The accused is allowed to see the victim impact statement before the victim even is allowed to read their victim impact statement. People keep asking us why the sentencing laws are so lax in Canada. We wish we could answer that question. Maybe someone here today could answer that for us. Why are the sentences so low in Canada?
We need stronger deterrents and tougher sentencing laws in Canada. We believe that mandatory minimum sentencing is not for every crime. However, Canadians do believe that when an unnatural death has been caused to an innocent person, the accused should be held accountable for causing a death and receive an appropriate sentence based on the severity of the crime. The sentences that are being handed down by our criminal justice system are inappropriate and need to be changed, and just changing them on paper and not having them ever enforced will not make a difference.
Most people who currently break the laws do so because they know there are very little consequences that will happen to them in our criminal justice system. If a mandatory sentence of five years was handed down, the accused would only serve about 10 to 12 months, which is still a low sentence for killing someone but is better than the six months or the $1,500 or $100 fine that is being given out now. The victim's family receives a lifetime sentence of being without their child or loved one and the victims receive a death sentence. Those who are not killed but who are injured may live a lifetime with extensive injuries or disabilities to deal with.
The convicted person is serving the least amount of sentence after committing the crime of killing or injuring a person. In Canada, impaired drivers will continue, and magnify, with the upcoming changes to marijuana laws. This crime will only grow if there are no mandatory minimum sentences handed down for impaired driving causing death. Considering the upcoming lessened restrictions on marijuana, not to mention the current crisis of opiate overdoses, which also happen in vehicles, the public is fearful of more impaired driving fatalities. Changing the Criminal Code of Canada would cover future deaths caused by both alcohol and drug impairment.