As a criminal defence lawyer, I spend a lot of time in my vehicle driving from one courthouse to the next. A necessary evil involved in this is that I also spend a lot of time listening to the radio. And, of course, radio ads. Around mid-October 2014, I noticed an ad played in almost every advertising break. And like most radio ads, it was mildly irritating. But the more I listened, the more infuriating it became.
This ad in particular was for MADD Canada. Given the frequency with which it played, and the prime driving time (to and from work, it would play at least twice in my twenty two minute commute) it could not have been cheap to purchase this advertising space. Although MADD Canada claims to post all of its public advertising campaigns on its website, I could not find this one.
That doesn’t surprise me. The ad is particularly misleading. It begins with the sound of a gavel banging, and a bailiff shouting out “All Rise.” Clearly the intention is to simulate a courtroom. This alone is misleading, as there are no gavels used in Canadian courts and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call out “All Rise” when a judge walks in.
The ad goes on to say that MADD Canada advocates for victims, and they believe that offenders who drink and drive and kill someone deserve a long term in jail. That their goal is legislative reform to make sure that happens.
The implication here is that people who drink and drive and cause death in Canada do not receive jail sentences. This is what continues to infuriate me. MADD holds itself out as an organization that aims to “stop impaired driving and support victims.” Which is a noble goal. But the desire to ensure that those who kill someone in an impaired driving tragedy go to jail for a long time achieves neither of these goals.
Worse still, the suggestion that impaired drivers who cause deaths do not go to jail is simply wrong. While there are no mandatory minimum jail sentences in impaired death or bodily harm cases, sentencing principles generally result in significant jail terms for these types of cases. It is extremely rare to see cases where people who drink and drive and cause death or injury do not serve a jail term. In cases where jail sentences are avoided, there have always been significant steps towards rehabilitation and repatriation, as well as overtures from the victim’s family that jail is not appropriate.
For an organization that the public trusts for education and information on drinking and driving to imply that those who drink, drive, and kill generally avoid jail is reprehensible in my mind. It puts public support behind initiatives designed to create mandatory minimum jail sentences for long terms, and do not reflect the complex realities that those involved in these types of offences face.
Most people who drink and drive and claim a life are not hardened criminals. They are not served in any way by a jail term. Separating these people from society is not necessary to achieve any real purpose, such as rehabilitation. Often, those who kill in drunk driving incidents kill their friends or family members. The consequence of the guilt and remorse that accompanies that cannot be told. And in some cases, the families of the victims realize that a jail sentence will not bring their loved one back, and will not do anything to heal the wounds this tragedy has caused.
There are many reasons mandatory minimums are not appropriate in these cases. MADD Canada appears to have as its motive to deceive the public into believing they are necessary to have jail sentences. This is not true. It is wrong, and misleading, and MADD Canada should reconsider its continued broadcasting of this advertisement. There are better ways to get the message across and achieve their goals, without attempting to mislead the public.
Finally, it’s upsetting generally that the organization appears to be taking shots at the court system for failing victims. That is not the role of the courts. The courts are there to fairly administer justice. The problem when dealing with an organization with the reach and resources of MADD, is that they know full well no one has the money to counter their misinformation. And nobody is taking radio space to correct it either because standing up for the rights of alleged impaired drivers is politically incorrect.