A recent series of tweets from VPD officer Sandra Glendinning has renewed calls for child endangerment laws related to impaired driving in British Columbia. MADD Canada, pointing to provinces like Manitoba and Nova Scotia, says that people who are caught driving while impaired with children in their vehicle should face stiffer penalties.
However, their call for stiffer penalties for child endangerment ignores several important factors.
As of December 2018, the Criminal Code of Canada was amended to create statutorily aggravating factors in all impaired driving cases. Among the listed aggravating factors are whether there was a person under the age of 16 present in the vehicle at the time of the incident.
This means that if a person is convicted of impaired driving, a judge is automatically required to take into account the fact that there was a child in the vehicle and to consider that in imposing a fit sentence. As a tradition, judges have always considered this to be an aggravating factor and in many circumstances, a penalty higher than the mandatory minimum was already imposed before the law was changed.
So while MADD Canada’s call for stronger penalties is perhaps understandable, it is clearly ignoring the plain fact that there is a process already in place for this across Canada.
The other factor MADD Canada is ignoring is that there is already a process in British Columbia for police to follow in circumstances involving children under sixteen in a vehicle with an allegedly impaired driver. Having represented these individuals before, I am very familiar with what happens in these situations.
Once the driver is removed from the road, charged, or issued their 90-day Immediate Roadside Prohibition, the police do not simply cease to be involved. A report is also made in these circumstances to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Following this, MCFD conducts home visits and schedules interviews with the parents to ensure the home is a safe and suitable environment.
Trust me, if there is a child in the vehicle when a person is alleged to have been driving impaired, there is a punishment. The humiliation of having a government agency responsible for removing children from unsafe homes show up at your house, inspect your situation, and monitor your involvement with your children is enough of a deterrent for most parents in these situations.
The driver in Sergeant Glendinning’s tweet has likely already had this home visit.
So while there is no statutory process to impound the vehicle for longer for child endangerment, that is not necessary.
Remember that for most families, a vehicle impound is not just a punishment for the parent who was driving it while intoxicated. It is a punishment for the whole family. The could be loss of the family vehicle, meaning no activities or social time with friends. It may mean trips to school on the city bus. For single parents, it can be even harder on the whole family.
If you make the fines for child endangerment stiffer, that too punishes everyone in the family. There is less money for food, necessities, school supplies, or family outings. Vacations may be cancelled.
Adding to the penalties does not protect children. Using existing processes – and not minimizing or ignoring their existence – does.