Ladysmith RCMP Staff Sgt. Ken Brissard and Denise Tutte conclude an emotional conversation on impaired driving and share not only a hug, but also the unfortunate experience of burying a loved one.
Denise’s son Zak Andrews died instantly in October 2015 after an impaired driver drove the wrong way on the Nanaimo Parkway and struck his vehicle head-on.
Brissard’s son-in-law Austin MacDougall was killed by a suspected impaired driver while out riding his bike in Edson earlier this year on July 5. The case is before the courts.
“I was forced to walk in the shoes of Denise and her family and thousands of other families who have taken that walk because of an impaired driver,” Brissard said. “ To say it was an eye opener, that’s an understatement and my opinion on what are policing priorities should be, when we’re able to, certainly changed – there was a paradigm shift.”
Locally, statistics for the last three years show instances of suspected impaired driving are on the rise, but the numbers also don’t paint the full picture.
Following his return to work this summer, Brissard held a meeting with the detachment where he laid out his priorities.
“I think it hit home for them to see the guy that’s normally growling at them now with tears coming out of his eyes – they have families too,” Brissard said.
In 2015, there were eight charges for impaired driving under the criminal code and 36 provincial Immediate Roadside Prohibitions. The following year the numbers increased to 13 and 35 respectively. This year there have been 28 CC charges and 84 provincially.
“The high percentage of the impairs that are apprehended are self-generated – the members are hunting and they are sneaky…” he said, adding that officers are also fair about visiting local establishments and letting people know they are out enforcing.
“That’s what people expect of us is to be sneaky and catch bad people so the members are very aggressive about hunting them before they cause an issue.”
Similar statistics were not available for Nanaimo where a memorial sits roadside for Tutte’s son.
“It bothers me that it was ruled accidental because it’s not accidental when somebody makes that decision,” she said.
The driver of the other vehicle that killed Andrews later died in hospital and the accident was attributed to driver error and drug impairment.
According to a five-year average of motor vehicle fatalities collected by the province, alcohol contributed to 20 per cent of all deaths while drugs was a factor in seven per cent.
Tutte said she’s concerned that the impending legalization of marijuana could mean an increase in impaired drivers if more resources aren’t made available to RCMP to increase enforcement.
She’s currently looking at how to bring Arrive Alive, Drive Sober, an Ontario charity that’s logo features a martini glass and marijuana leaf, to B.C.
“We need to educate the youth that you are still impaired under marijuana,” she said.
“My daughters are at the age, late teens early 20s, and a lot of their friends do drive high because they do assume that they can’t be charged.”
Ladysmith RCMP currently have two specially-trained Drug Recognition Experts who are called out in the event that a driver is believed to be impaired by narcotics.
“My members know this, if you stop a vehicle, even it’s self-generated, and you suspect there’s narcotics on board, marijuana or otherwise, and there’s an impaired driving history, I will pay the overtime for whomever to come out,” Brissard said.
Despite office Christmas parties and people having more time off from work, Brissard said the instances of impaired driving around the holidays aren’t noticeably higher.
“I think people are more cognizant this time of the year, and organizations certainly are in so far as insuring that there’s rides home for partygoers,” Brissard said.
If overall rise in impaired driving continues it also might just be a case of good old fashioned police work.
“I wouldn’t say it’s on the rise. I’m an optimistic person. I think it’s still through education and enforcement,” Brissard said. “The increase is solely because of my members’ passion at keeping our streets safe and keeping our people safe.”
Tutte’s message is simple: ‘plan ahead.’
“Have your designated driver because that knock on the door in the wee hours of the morning, nobody wants to face that,” she said. “I lost my son who had children and will never know their father. The driver had children. It snowballs and effects others and this time of year when you’ve been through that you’re painfully aware of that empty seat.”