Markita Kaulius went to Ottawa this week to speak with federal politicians on behalf of the many Canadians who have lost their lives to drunk drivers, her daughter being one of those victims.
Kaulius, founder of Families for Justice, lost her 22-year-old daughter Kassandra to a drunk driver in Surrey in 2011, a year when 1,074 Canadians were killed by impaired drivers and more than 63,000 were injured.
“It is affecting thousands of families across Canada,” she said of the impaired driving scourge in this country.
Kaulius made a presentation to the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and also met with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Conservative justice minister Rob Nicholson
“What we’ve been asking for is the government to look at changing the Criminal Code of Canada redefining impaired driving causing death as vehicular homicide. They’re not in favour of that; they say vehicular homicide does not include, the terminology doesn’t include planes, trains and snowmobiles, whatever. We’re saying you can change the word to whatever you want.”
She noted the actual term was “drawn up” by the justice department in Bill C-73.
Families for Justice is also seeking mandatory five-year minimum sentences for anyone convicted of impaired driving causing death.
“We’ve seen sentences of one day in jail, house arrest, a $1,500 fine, seven weekends in jail, 90 days to be served on weekends,” she said. “We’ve had entire families killed.”
In one case, she said, a mother, father and their two children from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan were killed by a drunk driver.
“The accused, it was her third impaired driving charge. She got a sentence of 10 years, but after only serving one month in jail she went to a healing lodge, and even the elders of the healing lodge told the deceased’s family that they didn’t think that was appropriate, that she she should have spent some time in jail.
“She won’t serve 10 years,” Kaulius said. “She’ll be coming up for parole in about 18 months, so she will have served about six months per death.”
Kaulius noted that a lot of drunk drivers who kill have had previous impaired driving convictions. “They’ve had two or three times or more that they’ve been stopped.”
In Nova Scotia, she noted, there’s a man who has been charged withimpaired driving charges 19 times and last year in Victoria a woman was charged with her 21st impaired driving charge. “They haven’t killed anybody, by the grace of God, but when they’re still driving after 19, 21 times of impaired driving, that’s not right.”
Kaulius’s presentation ran about 20 minutes. “Everybody kind of thanks you for coming. I did have a couple say it was a very good presentation and sometimes they forget the human aspect of this and what families go through, and so they appreciated that.”
She brought to Ottawa a banner with the photos of victims — her daughter included — to which she recently added 20 new faces. “It includes Jan Dudgeon killed on March 23, 2017 and Travis Selje who died on May 5, 2017, who were both killed in Surrey this year.”
Kaulius noted that the federal government has raised the penalty for impaired driving from 10 to 14 years imprisonment.
“In the impaired driving causing death, the penalty was the maximum of up to life imprisonment, but no judge ever has given that out. I think there’s only been one case in all of Canada, and it was a family of five that was killed years ago by a fellow who has just got out of jail three days earlier for impaired driving,” Kaulius said. “Basically we’ve said to them you can change the laws all you want on paper in the Criminal Code, but if the judges do not enforce the laws it makes no difference.”
What does she hope was achieved by her trip to Ottawa?
“I have hope they would get a better understanding of what families go through and that there’s a need for definite changes in the legislation. I mean, I sort of equate this as you’re doing a puzzle and you have pieces you’re trying to fit together, to make this a complete picture, but if you’re missing key pieces out of this puzzle it will never be complete. They have an opportunity to make some real changes here and increase some penalties which will hopefully be a deterrence.”
That said, did the politicians make any promises or commitments to her?
“Not necessarily,” Kaulius replied. “Definitely they say they are going to be looking at this and they are listening to other speakers. There was people there from the Bar Association, there was people there from civil liberties, there was the Canadian Automobile Association, they had a doctor from Vancouver, they had a scientist there, a professor, someone from MADD.”