It’s time for the Canadian courts, for once and for all, to make a ruling on repeat drunk drivers and consider them as dangerous offenders.
The public is sick and tired of seeing those drivers waltz out of court with a mere slap on the wrist, then make a bee-line to the nearest liquor store or bar.
Take killer driver Roger Walsh, for example. He pleaded guilty in a Quebec court recently to mowing down a woman in a wheelchair on her 47th birthday.
Anee Khudaverdian was out with her pup when a drunken Walsh slammed into her, then fled the scene. It was his 19th impaired driving charge.
The courts must protect the public and reflect the public’s abhorrence of particular crimes.
The criminal justice system must work to ensure that citizens can live peacefully and without fear.
In sentencing, the court must weigh the likelihood of the offender repeating an offence.
And the court must consider the rehabilitation of the offender.
In the Walsh case, the likelihood of rehabilitation seems less than remote.
In fact, legal history could be made today if Walsh is declared by Judge Michel Mercier in a Valleyfield, Que., courtroom as a dangerous offender.
Prosecutor Joey Dubois is seeking such a status. He is taking advantage of a 2008 Criminal Code amendment by the Steven Harper government in its Tackling Violent Crime Act. It allows the Crown to seek the dangerous offender status with a lengthy prison term — 20 years, followed by 10 years of close surveillance — as opposed to an indeterminate prison sentence under the old law.
Court heard that Walsh had been binge drinking and was more than double the .08 legal limit when he ended the life of Khudaverdian.
Stricken with polio and confined to a wheelchair since childhood, the victim lived for her daughter, whom she had at age 40. She had a rich life and loved animals and volunteered at local animal shelters.
A drunken Walsh, behind the wheel of a mini-van, smashed into her wheelchair, propelling her into a ditch. He was arrested less than 10 km away after driving into a ditch. In court, he pleaded guilty to hit-and-run causing death, impaired driving causing death and violating a court order barring him from drinking.
Besides his 19 impaired driving convictions, Walsh’s record includes 114 convictions for assault, uttering threats, breaking and entering, and theft.
Can he be labelled a dangerous offender?
University of Alberta law professor Sanjeev Anand says the Supreme Court of Canada has in the past directed the lower counts to use the dangerous offender label sparingly “unless the offender is the worst of the worst.”
But that was under prior legislation.
Today, beyond a reasonable doubt, Walsh is the “worst of the worst.”
The judge should pass sentence accordingly. It’s in the hands of that judge to set the precedent, then let the higher courts rule on the decision under the new legislation.
For the sake of lives, the rules must be laid out clearly.
Enough is enough.
Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.