In homage to my Twitter pal @Tombrodbeck of the Winnipeg Sun, I give my faithful followers the first-ever installment of what will be now be known as “the Golden Crown award” — handed out to some of the best examples of Manitoba Prosecutors trying to deter and denounce unlawful conduct.
This illustrious award’s first recipient comes after a court hearing today where a Winnipeg mom of nine was spared jail after she drunkenly crashed her car and abandoned her five-year-old daughter inside, only to be arrested minutes later in her home, passed out on the couch and with another child screaming at the top of its lungs in the background.
Two hours after the crash, the woman — who has no prior record — blew a breathalyzer reading of .17 — more than twice the legal limit — and was charged with child abandonment and impaired driving (there were no injuries serious enough to bump it up to impaired causing bodily harm). The charge was referred to today in court as “Impaired Driving Simplicitor” — a charge that somehow nets everybody a fine upon a first conviction for it, at least according to one top Manitoba judge.
And here’s why Manitoba Crown attorney Lisa Cupples is this illustrious award’s first recipient.
She asked Judge Ray Wyant to send the woman to jail for the crime. She didn’t say how long, just that she be locked up to send her — and others — a message.
She even presented case law to back up why she should be locked up as a way to denounce not only her conduct — but deter others from drinking and driving. They’re two of the main sentencing principles enunciated by Parliament.
And what’s more, former Provincial Court Chief Judge Ray Wyant almost did send her to the clink — but ultimately ruled that it wouldn’t be in society’s (or the offender’s) interest to do so, for various reasons (see below).
But without a doubt, Cupples’s request clearly had Wyant thinking — and thinking out loud at that. He told her in his experience, no prosecutor had ever proposed such a thing.
Here’s his comments to her on her argument for jail, verbatim, from today’s hearing:
I have to say it’s the first time that I can recall — not necessarily a bad thing — but the first time I’ve heard a Crown attorney, at least in my experience, ask for jail on an impaired simplicitor where there were no injuries at least that justified the laying or the proceeding of impaired causing bodily harm.
I have to say I’ve seen countless cases — far too many sadly — of people driving at high rates of speed and blitzed, hitting cars and smashing whatever and — I appreciate you don’t speak for others — but I don’t think I ever recall anything but the Crown saying, ‘well take into account the seriousness of this, but because it’s a first offence, she should receive a fine.”
[Snip … to later in his reasons]
I commend the Crown for bringing that factor to the court’s attention. Often times we may get into the situation where we just have standard sentences for certain offences. ‘First time impaired simplicitor? — gotta be a fine.’
And a range of fine perhaps dependent on the existence or lack of aggravating circumstances: ‘what was the (breathalyzer) reading?,’ ‘Was there property damage?,’ ‘Was there a high rate of speed?,’ ‘Was there the potential for injuries?’ — That kind of thing, where the person has no record — and I think the Crown’s position reflects the fact that each individual case has to be looked at seriously, and that just because it’s an impaired simplicitor and just because the person has no prior record that doesn’t automatically mean that they get a fine.
And it shouldn’t mean that.
Drinking and driving is rampant and it doesn’t appear that we’ve been able to abate the carnage on our highways in spite of the education and in spite of the increased penalties.
I think we all know that if the police were probably given more resources to go out and nab impaired drivers, we’d see a lot more in here and that’s sadly something I think we all see too often.
Wyant then went on to give his rationale for why jail in this case was inappropriate (mom had just gotten all her kids back, was 1 year sober, had been actively participating in rehab and AA etc.).
But he complemented Cupples for raising jail as an option.
As we all should.
Ms. Cupples, keep up the good work. People notice.