© Heather Taweel - The Guardian
Robert Vessey left, MLA and Chief Paul Smith, Charlottetown Police Department, hold a breathalyzer and new marked license plate at a press conference outlining the amendments to the Highway Traffic Act in regards to those so choose to repeatedly drive while under the influence of alcohol. The press conference was held at Province House Friday.
Stringent amendments crack down on repeat drinking, driving offenders
There is no obvious scarlet letter as the province moves relentlessly to toughen the Highway Traffic Act regarding drinking and driving, especially rules for multi-offenders.
Repeat drunk drivers will have to stay on the ignition interlock system for a staggering 10 years, but a slight reprieve is being offered. If those offenders remain clean for five years, they can apply for a special licence plate which will replace the interlock system. The plate will contain a special sequence that police will recognize.
Those changes seem measured and justified. There were fears expressed when Transportation Minister Robert Vessey first floated the idea of a special DUI plate that a type of scarlet letter would prominently identify a driver with a drinking and driving conviction. The stigma of this mark of shame was seen as a powerful deterrent for anyone considering getting behind the wheel after drinking. But the idea made some people uncomfortable, drawing comparisons to recent dark passages in human history.
Mr. Vessey still has his scarlet letter, but conceded to a large red ‘R’ on the front of the driver’s licence of a convicted impaired driver. On the back will be the phrase "Zero Blood Alcohol Level." It’s still a searing branding mark.
There is little doubt that Mr. Vessey is on a fervent crusade to rid Island roads of a dangerous threat. He introduced tougher amendments to the act just a year ago and is continuing his crackdown this spring. The courts hold a similar dim view of drinking drivers, enforcing the criminal code with mandatory jail sentences and huge fines.
The minister held a recent summit on drinking and driving, soliciting suggestions on amendments and hearing from various interested parties - including police, other officials in the judicial system and family members affected by the tragedy wrought by drunk drivers.
Mr. Vessey said the changes are aimed at repeat offenders who don’t seem to get the message. Statistics support this conclusion. In 2010, there were 424 total impaired driving convictions. Last year that number fell to 297 yet the number of third-time or more convictions remained at 75.
It’s unacceptable. If the latest changes don’t work, the only recourse left for the province is lengthier licence suspensions, followed by a permanent, lifetime ban. Those affected will have no one to blame but themselves.
No change on abortion issue
Despite an impressive show of strength at an abortion rights rally in Charlottetown last Thursday, pro-choice supporters failed to budge the government. Did organizers really think much would change, no matter how many turned out? It’s doubtful. The word abortion means status quo on P.E.I.
The rally came a day after national Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said that only pro-choice Liberal candidates would be welcomed to run in the next federal election — present MPs excepted. That new national party plank might have given Island pro-choice supporters cause for hope, perhaps seeing a crack open just a little in the rigid provincial Liberal stance.
Health Minister Doug Currie attended the rally but held firm. Premier Robert Ghiz gave extensive interviews following Mr. Trudeau’s surprise promulgation and said it changed nothing. Both Mr. Ghiz and Mr. Currie insist the law of the land is being followed, that Island women have access to abortion — as long as the procedure is performed in Halifax.
Speaker after speaker criticized the province’s position, especially in light of the pending closure of the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, which further restricts access to abortion for Island women.
Meanwhile, pro-life supporters exult that P.E.I. remains a life sanctuary, the only province without abortions. They are planning a pro-life march May 25 to flex their power and issue a reminder to the province to hold firm.