After a spate of recent high profile incidents, Premier Brad Wall wrote a compelling post on Facebook lamenting drunk driving in Saskatchewan, in which he promised discussion when the Legislature sits in October, and asked residents for their suggestions on how to curb the carnage on the roads.
It was the right thing to do. Saskatchewan residents, wary of the fact that amongst us today live tomorrow’s DUI-related dead, are looking for direction on where to go next on this brutal issue… some glimmer of hope that maybe things will get better… maybe less people would have to die to spawn change.
Wall certainly made the effort to provide that comfort, and it was to be commended.
“I have asked the Minister of Justice and the Minister of SGI to consider further action,” he said on Facebook, perhaps wincing at the notion that the Minister of SGI he’s asking to consider action on drunk driving is the one replacing the former Minister of SGI, who had just been arrested for drunk driving.
“It is my request of Ministers that we have additional measures ready for urgent consideration next month when the Legislature reconvenes,” continued the post. “If you have some ideas or suggestions on this crucial matter, I would like to hear them.”
Here’s the thing. This is all well and good, and certainly sets the pretense of ‘doing something’, but I’m not convinced Wall needs to ask for suggestions from his Ministers, nor from you and I – because he did that already, just three years ago.
There’s a hint of this in this line from Wall’s Facebook post: “BC and Alberta are seeing improvements on this front and have taken steps that seem to be helping.”
Yeah, they are. And this government had the option of implementing those steps taken by BC and Alberta, but it didn’t. In fact, those BC and Alberta steps were outright rejected by the Saskatchewan government in 2013.
More on that later.
As much as I want to only praise Wall’s efforts to initiate further measures to keep Saskatchewan streets and highways safe from alcohol-related tragedies, I don’t love the subtext that comes with it, that of ‘we didn’t know’, or ‘tell us how to do better and we will’.
Because I think you did know, and you could have, but you didn’t.
In March of 2013 the provincial government commissioned a ‘Special Committee on Traffic Safety’ (SCTS), to conduct an inquiry on matters related to improving traffic safety and reducing fatalities. The “non-partisan” (ha!) committee was comprised of Sask Party MLAs Darryl Hickie, Herb Cox, Roger Parent, Warren Steinley, Nadine Wilson, and NDP MLAs Doyle Vermette and Danielle Chartier.
Across Saskatchewan, in that spring of 2013, newspapers, radio and television stations received notices advising the public of upcoming SCTS hearings. Over 100 stakeholder letters were sent out to cities, First Nations, Tribal Councils, policing organizations, non-profit groups and research institutions throughout not only Saskatchewan, but the entire country, inviting interested parties to request to present to the committee either in person, or by written submission.
Witness testimony began on May 21, 2013 with a presentation by Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI). In all, there were a total of 27 presentations – ten in Regina, two in Estevan, ten in Saskatoon, two in Prince Albert, one in Pelican Narrows, and two in La Ronge.
And while some of these presentations considered road safety issues such as wildlife and paving, the vast majority were on impaired driving.
Let’s have a look at what the SCTS committee heard, recommended, and what the Saskatchewan government ended up actually doing, shall we?
On of the first presenters, SGI, told the committee that they recommended expanding zero tolerance to drivers 21 years of age and under, as did MADD in their presentation, who further recommended zero Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit for any driver with less than five years driving experience.
SGI also requested an additional 120 RCMP officers dedicated to rural traffic enforcement.
“In the 1990s there were 200 RCMP highway patrol resources in Saskatchewan,” said Kwei Quaye, assistant vice-president of traffic safety at SGI. “Today there are about 63 RCMP officers dedicated to traffic enforcement in Saskatchewan and only 48 are on road enforcement positions…When you take into consideration leave time and sick time, etc., etc., we dare say that anecdotally we’ve heard that on many days here in Saskatchewan, there’s virtually no RCMP on our roads; there is virtually no enforcement law on our roads.”
Think about that: “virtually no RCMP on our roads”. This from executives at SGI.
In fact, SGI pointed out to the committee that 57 per cent of the 9-1-1 calls reporting drunk drivers garnered no response. In 2012, of the 9,952 impaired drivers reported to law enforcement (that’s almost 30 per day), 5,791 went unattended – because there weren’t any officers available.
“Roughly 73 per cent of rural traffic injuries and deaths occur on about 20 principal highways here in Saskatchewan,” continued Quaye, regarding the placement of 120 new law enforcement officers. “And doing our analysis, we recommend that these highways be the focus of the program, the application of these additional enforcement officers.”
Faye Rorke of the Driving Without Impairment program, and Chief Tammy Cook-Searson of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band told the committee that zero tolerance should be expanded to all drivers.
“I think there should be a zero tolerance for drinking and driving because it’s been proven over and over again that it’s dangerous,” said Cook-Searson.
Other communities shared what they’ve done to increase enforcement. Greg Wallin, administrator for the RM of Browning told the committee that his RM had been approved for enhanced RCMP service. The town of Rosetown hired a special constable and the town of Unity and the RM of Cupar hired bylaw enforcement officers.
Doug Beirness of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (you really should read what he told these MLAs, it’s incredible) emphasized the importance of visible roadside enforcement.“You have to increase, not only the perception, but the actual probability of getting caught,” he said.
“That’s what deterrence is all about. That’s why checkpoints work … And it requires that you have the media on board as well because if you tell the public that the police are out there looking for you, chances are you’ll have an impact.”
You know how at Christmas, police checkstops are setup all over the place pulling people over, but we know about them because they’re all over the news and in advertising, so we designate drivers or take taxis?
Yeah, imagine if cops did that year-round. Or even just on the Canada Day long weekend.
This next one was a biggie.
In addition to discussing the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) model, which calls for an immediate 7 to 14-day suspension for drivers over .05, both Beirness – whose expertise was so sought after that the provincial government flew him in from Ottawa – and Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada implored the committee to consider British Columbia’s Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP) program which was introduced in 2010.
BC’s IRP imposes a 3-day license suspension and 3-day vehicle impoundment, on drivers who blow in what’s called the Warn Range: .05 – .08, along with an administrative penalty, reinstatement fee and a towing/storage fee.
“Fifty per cent reduction in deaths, two years running,” said Murie about drunk driving statistics after implementation of BC’s IRP. “We’ve never seen these types of results anywhere, not only in Canada but worldwide…Alberta numbers aren’t out officially, (but) they’ve done the same thing. They’ve experienced a 40 per cent reduction in deaths.”
Murie was referring to the fact that Alberta had implemented their own IRP program the year before, in 2012, which also included the threat of 3-day vehicle impoundment upon the first offence of driving within the Warn Zone. While not as dramatically, Alberta too has seen a sharp decrease in DUI-related traffic incidents in the last three years.
“You take the car away; it’ll change people’s behaviour,” Murie continued. “You don’t even have to do it that often. The threat of it makes the people change behaviours, and it’s short term. So it does impact the person but it’s not so long term that it affects family, affects their employment, but it’s enough of a wake-up call to change behaviours.”
Back in 2013, Saskatchewan drivers blowing over .04 received a 24-hour license suspension, but no impoundment.
“Can you do better? Can we make it more effective?” asked Beirness of the SCTS committee. “I think you can.”
Pretty compelling stuff, right? Which is why I’m pretty sure IRPs, inclusive of 3-day impoundments for drivers in the Warn Zone as implemented in BC and Alberta, are what Wall was referring to in his Facebook post.
In addition to these themes, the 2013 committee also heard appeals for increased fines; mandatory interlock; changes to screening and addictions counseling; greater awareness of the Report Impaired Drivers (RID) program; more targeted education and increasing participation in a responsible service program for the hospitality industry.
So after this committee sat through days of public hearings and reading hundreds of pages of written submissions, all on traffic safety, what was the result on impaired driving?
In August 2013, the SCTS submitted their final report, along with 26 recommendations, 8 of which related to impaired driving. Here’s what they were:
- Zero drug and alcohol tolerance for drivers up to 19 and any drivers in the Graduated Driver’s Licensing (GDL) program.
- That SGI fully fund up to 120 new officers dedicated to traffic enforcement over a four-year period and that the majority of these new officers be RCMP officers with some also being assigned to Municipal Policing.
- SGI work collaboratively with the Ministry of Justice, policing division, and Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority to research and implement technologies, such as Automated License Recognition program.
- SLGA work with SGI to produce traffic safety messages throughout the whole year through communication means including billboards, social media and radio.
- SGI evaluate the Impairing Factors section in the Saskatchewan Driver’s Handbook to ensure it’s current and emphasizes the seriousness of impaired driving.
- SGI and SLGA conduct rural and urban roadside surveys for baseline information about impaired driving and that a further study be conducted two years after implementation of recommendations to evaluate outcomes.
- Serve It Right Saskatchewan become mandatory for all new employees who serve alcohol.
- A range of administrative sanctions (ie fines, impoundment, license suspensions), including the following for a first offence:
Notice what’s not there?
BC and Alberta’s highly recommended, proven-successful IRP program, inclusive of 3-day impoundment on first offense in Warn Zone.
You know, the one that the committee was told had reduced drunk-driving deaths in BC by 50 per cent in just two years (2010-2012).
Now, the IRP program has not been without flaw. Defence lawyers are all over it, as they should be, that’s their job. Taking away people’s personal property isn’t exactly a popular move, and no government or law enforcement should take that action lightly. The BC law has been challenged, successfully, resulting in tweaks and modifications, but absolutely no backtracking by that province, who remain firmly convinced of it’s success, claiming 260 lives have been saved since 2010.
So why wouldn’t the SCTS committee not have even recommended this seemingly lifesaving impaired driving strategy to the Government of Saskatchewan?
I have no idea, because of course, the committee debated their recommendations in camera before presenting them.
There are clues, however, that discussion on this one was heated.
From Saskatoon Riversdale MLA and SCTS deputy chair Danielle Chartier, in the October 2013 fall sitting of the Legislature:
“Today after question period, the government will table the committee’s report which contains many good recommendations to make our roads safer. It doesn’t contain, however, one particular recommendation that has been proven to save lives, which was the goal of the committee.
Mr. Speaker, in BC and Alberta almost immediately after those governments implemented short-term vehicle impoundments, impaired driving fatalities declined sharply. Implementing tougher penalties should include short-term vehicle impoundments on first offence, the policy that’s worked in other provinces.
Will the minister commit today to implement this effective first-time offence policy?”
They didn’t answer that.
A few minutes later, when presenting the report to the Speaker, former MLA and SCTS chair Darryl Hickie had this to say:
“..we never agreed on one particular section of a recommendation. The majority decided to go with a different measure… but having said that, I thank the members of the opposition for their dissenting opinion, and we will now see what the minister and the cabinet decide moving forward.”
In her response, Chartier said:
“There were good in camera discussions… when it comes to impaired driving, government members stubbornly refuse to ignore the evidence before us. They fail to use common sense on this recommendation.”
To that end, in addition to the SCTS recommendations, Chartier had insisted on including her minority opinion at the end of the report.
“Ignoring this profound evidence of our two western neighbors and refusing to implement a short-term vehicle impoundment in the administrative penalty range is risking more lives in Saskatchewan.”
Completely overruled by SaskParty MLAs and the provincial government, though again, this strategy was never even recommended to the latter for consideration.
What SCTS recommendations did the Saskatchewan government implement?
On November 7, 2013, the provincial government announced the changes they were moving forward with after reviewing the SCTS committees recommendations.
Even overall, there weren’t very damn many, IMHO, but here is what they pledged in respect to drunk driving:
- “Implementing zero drug and alcohol tolerance for all drivers under 19 years of age, and for all drivers in the Graduated Driver’s Licencing (GDL) program and Motorcycle GDL program;
- Immediate 60-day roadside licence suspension and three-day vehicle impoundment with any Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) under .08 for drivers under 19 years of age, and all drivers in any GDL program;
- Immediate licence suspension up to court disposition and a 30-day roadside vehicle impoundment for a first offence for all drivers with a BAC of .08 to .15, or those who refuse a test;
- Introducing mandatory ignition interlock for high BAC offenders;”
Meaning the Saskatchewan government ignored the SCTS committee’s recommendations, specifically, in part, around SGI working with SLGA on things like: Automated License Recognition; traffic safety messages ie. billboards, social media and radio; conducting roadside surveys (which are currently done all over Canada, but we haven’t done in Saskatchewan since the 90s). They didn’t even move forward with having SGI evaluate the Impairing Factors section in the Saskatchewan Driver’s Handbook.
Six months after their November 2013 announcement, the province further announced, in a very carefully crafted news release, “60 Officers Dedicated to Traffic Safety Enforcement”
Remember, SGI wanted, and the SCTS committee recommended “up to” 120 new officers, and SGI were willing to pay for all 120, in part because in the long run it would save them money.
“So on the issue of traffic enforcement and law enforcement officers added to the complement already paid for by the province of Saskatchewan, is SGI saying with this recommendation that they will fully fund these positions?” asked Hickie during SGI’s presentation to the SCTS.
“Our position is that if we were to do this as laid out here, that we would provide that funding because the return on this investment would be far greater,” replied Earl Cameron, executive vice-president of SGI’s Auto Fund. “We’d actually have a reduction in what we’d require for premiums then. ”
But, we got 60.
Actually no. When you read the release closer you realize that there were really only 30 new officers heading out onto the roads, because the other 30 were existing officers pulled away from their existing responsibilities.
Like maybe rural policing?
But that’s a different blog post.
It took this government another two years, until summer 2015, to fulfill the recommendation that Serve It Right Saskatchewan become mandatory for all new employees who serve alcohol.
And here we are.
Is impounding the vehicle of a first-time offender, who hasn’t drank enough to blow .08, but who has chosen to drive just a drink or two away from that line, going to fix Saskatchewan’s DUI problem?
Well, I’m pretty sure it can’t hurt.
Again, if the notion of the state taking your property gives you the creeps, I’m right there with you. But if City employees can come onto your property and take your vehicle because of an unpaid parking ticket (just ask me), pretty sure we can suck this one up.
I just don’t see how we can afford not to take a drastic step like this, especially one that’s been proven as effective.
Again, we don’t know why the recommendation was never made to the provincial government in 2013. We don’t know why the provincial government ignored some of the recommendations they did receive.
But, I hope that Premier Wall reconsiders his request of both the general public and his Ministers, because when this government returns to the Legislature in October, he needs to commit to tangible action, not review – because until then, every time another Saskatchewan resident is killed by a drunk driver, this government cannot say they don’t know what else they could have done.