Impaired driving charges on rise in N.W.T., says defence lawyer

‘They thought they were OK to drive, they encountered the police — they’re not OK to drive. And they end up facing these significant consequences,’ said Yellowknife defence lawyer Charles Davison. (Submitted by Charles Davison)

Lawyer Charles Davison says he’s seen a ‘definite increase in numbers’ in recent years

Charles Davison, a defence lawyer in Yellowknife, imagines taking out an ad in local media on behalf of himself and his colleagues saying, “we don’t want your business.”

It would be aimed squarely at a specific group: impaired drivers.

“Impaired driving is something that catches a lot of people who aren’t otherwise people that would think of themselves as criminals,” Davison said.

“We’re seeing more and more of it, it seems.”

According to Statistics Canada, the N.W.T. led the country in the rate of police-reported impaired driving in 2019, more than 13 times the national average. Yukon and Nunavut were second and third, respectively.

Rate of police-reported impaired driving by province or territory, 2019. (Statistics Canada)

Davison says it’s not clear whether the increase in impaired driving charges means people are doing it more, or whether they’re just more likely to get caught. Since 2018, police have been able to demand a breath test from any driver they pull over, whether or not police have reason to suspect they’re impaired.

“So it can be that they’re checking on your licence, that could be a parking infraction, a bylaw infraction, any reason at all — if they have a roadside tester with them, they can ask for a sample of your breath,” Davison said.

“Comparing sample [court] docket days in Yellowknife from this year with sample docket days over the last three or four years, we see a definite increase in the numbers.”

Sharon Allen of Fort Smith, N.W.T., says she’s disappointed by the persistence of impaired driving in the North. In 2008, she lost her teenage daughter Keisha Trudel after a 16-year-old boy crashed a vehicle while intoxicated in Fort Smith.

“We need to do more in the North. There needs to be more awareness,” Allen said.

“People need to take a serious look at their habits and you know, take accountability for their actions.”

Keisha Trudel, left, and her mom Sharon Allen. Trudel was killed in 2008 after a 16-year-old boy crashed a vehicle while intoxicated in Fort Smith, N.W.T. (Submitted by Sharon Allen)

Allen believes the laws and penalties need to be tougher for those convicted of impaired driving.

“I have pictures, I have wonderful memories of my daughter. But it’s the living without her that’s been really hard.”

Davison urges people to think of the potential consequences of impaired driving, and how easy it is to avoid them. For a first offence, the minimum penalty is a $1,000 fine and losing your licence for a year.

“They thought they were OK to drive, they encountered the police — they’re not OK to drive. And they end up facing these significant consequences,” he said.

“You’re going to get caught, you’re going to pay all these various forms of a penalty and a price. And you can avoid it all, especially in Yellowknife by, you know, pulling out a $20 bill and giving it to a taxi driver at the end of the night.”

-With files from Mah Noor Mubarik

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Quebec Inuit org. calls lack of police, justice reform “ticking catastrophe in modern times”, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Police response times up to an hour slower in Arctic Finland, Yle News

United States: Violence Against Women bill would expand power of up to 30 Alaska tribal courts, Alaska Public Media

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