People’s attitudes towards impaired driving are beginning to shift in the territory, the mother of a young girl killed in a drunk driving crash says.
Sharon Allen, Fort Simpson resident and the territory’s only Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) community leader, said the organization’s campaigns and people’s willingness to report impaired drivers is behind an increase in these drivers being reported.
The NWT saw a 23-per-cent increase in police-reported impaired driving between 2015 and 2016 despite an overall decrease across the country, according to a Statistics Canada crime report released July 24.
In May of this year, News/North reported RCMP charged 11 people with impaired driving after conducting 1,800 vehicle checks during National Road Safety Week. The same week 30-year-old Karen Lafferty, originally from Behchoko, was killed in a vehicle accident involving an impaired driver.
“Our communities are tired of it, they are tired of the impaired driving. People are losing their licences and they are losing their jobs. It has a detrimental effect to their life,” Allen said.
Allen knows firsthand what kind of effect drunk driving has. After her 16-year old daughter Keisha was killed when the car she was in hit a tree near Fort Smith in 2008, Allen has suffered profound emotional trauma. Years after the death of her daughter, symptoms of PTSD surfaced. Allen suffered mood swings, depression and anxiety. She said PTSD is something she will always have to work through.
Across the country the report stated the vast majority of impaired driving, 96 per cent, was due to alcohol. While drug-impaired driving remains low compared to alcohol, it did see an increase of 11 per cent.
The report states the rise in impaired driving offences reported by police could be caused by a number of factors including changes in laws, police practices or attitudes towards impaired driving.
Allen wants to see the justice system take a harder line against impaired drivers. In her daughter’s case, she said the man driving the vehicle received two years probation.
“I feel robbed, like that young man robbed me of my daughter,” she said. “I forgave the young man, but the justice system is not doing enough to protect the victims, the family that is left with the aftermath of what happens when they lose a child.”
Allen said the solution lies in a combination of awareness and stricter penalties for impaired driving.
Martin Goldney, deputy minister of justice, stated in an email the continued impaired driving incidents are ‘disheartening’, and demonstrates the need to improve efforts to stop the dangerous behaviour.
Meanwhile, the crime stats report showed an overall nine per cent decrease in the crime severity index from 2015 to 2016. The index measures both volume and seriousness of police-reported crime, including traffic and drug violations.
Decreases in the reporting of crimes of mischief, homicide and breaking and entering were what drove down the index. Police-reported sexual assault also went down by 18 per cent in the NWT between 2015 and 2016.
Goldney stated the justice department continues to see a large portion of the crime rate related to “property offences like mischief, and we know that this is often attributable to the abuse of alcohol and drugs.” Goldney added this data shows responses to crime need to include social supports.
The Youth Crime Severity Index also decreased in the NWT between 2015 and 2016.
While the NWT saw decreases, the territory still has the highest crime severity index, crime rate and one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the country.
The latest StatCan report only covers crimes reported to police. A 2014 StatCan survey estimates 30 per cent of crimes are reported to police on average, for some crimes the number is much lower than this. For sexual assault, only five per cent are reported to police according to the 2014 survey.
“Differences between individual police services, such as available resources or departmental priorities, policies and procedures can also have an effect on police-reported crimes,” the latest report stated.
The RCMP could not provide an official to be interviewed by News/North as of press time.