The Canadian Drunk Driving Epidemic and a Lenient Slap on the Wrist

Canada has a pretty nasty record when it comes to fatal drunk driving accidents. Is the amount of jail time we hand out to these drivers enough of a deterrent?

According to a study conducted in the U.S., Canada has the highest occurrence of fatal car accidents caused by alcohol, which account for 34% of all of their motor vehicle related deaths. There’s a 3% difference in fatal impaired driving accidents between Canada and the U.S. and New Zealand. 

According to the study, Canada has fewer people dying from car crashes, but still has the highest percentage of deaths related to alcohol impaired driving of the high-income countries included in the study. Canadians have fewer accidents – we’re better drivers – but still choose to get behind the wheel while drunk. We might have had something worth gloating about here, but completely blew that chance.

Marco Muzzo, 29, went on a bender at his bachelor party in Miami. After going to bed at three in the morning, he boarded his private jet come morning on his way back home. On the plane, he drank even more, and still thought he was alright to drive home when he got into his car 15 minutes after landing at Pearson. 

He killed four people: Daniel Neville-Lake, 9; Harrison, 5; Milagros, 2; and their 65-year-old grandfather, Gary Neville. He also additionally injured the grandmother and great-grandmother of the children: 64-year-old Neriza Neville, Gary’s wife, and her mother, 91-year-old Josefina Frias.

His sentence? 10 years in prison. He’ll be eligible to apply for parole after one third of his sentence. Since parole is mandatory, after two thirds of his sentence, it will be guaranteed. This means he can serve out the last third of his sentence in the community.

Using a precedent means a using a similar case (or cases) and outcome to assign a punishment, regardless of what the text of the Criminal Code says. If there are no similar cases, then a judge has the right to set a new precedent with the current case. At that point, the sentence is used as an example for future cases. When the judge of this case was making her decision, she considered two other cases of drunk-driving related death. The cases she used caused a single death each, not four, and were sentenced to four and five years each. The judge acknowledged there isn’t any real comparison, but did this anyway in order to find some common ground.

The mitigating factors for Muzzo's sentence were that he expressed remorse for his actions, and his age. But he also caused four deaths, which meant a lengthier sentence. 10 years is one of the longest sentences imposed for a fatal drunk driving accident, and the judge mentioned that it was meant to be a deterrent. 

A manslaughter charge (or pure criminal negligence causing the death of someone else which has provisions for things like dangerous driving and impaired driving causing death) has a maximum punishment of life in prison, and minimum of four years if a firearm was used in an accidental killing. That’s all outlined in the Criminal Code. Generally, manslaughter sentences are longer than 10 years, and that’s just for one death.

Generally, light sentences for even fatal drunk driving accidents have been the norm. 

In 2012, Sabastian Prosa partied with his friends downtown and decided after that it’d be smart to make a U-turn on Highway 427. He hit a family’s minivan and killed two people: Jayantha “Neil” Wijeratne and his teenaged daughter, and also badly injured his wife.

Last year, he was sentenced to a minimal five years in prison and eight year driving ban, despite making the flimsy excuse that someone slipped an elusive drug into his drink at the club. The judge didn't believe him, and despite that, he only got the five years.

The judge in charge said his drunk driving was “clearly out of character," according to the Toronto Sun. The judge also said sentence was enough to deter others from doing the same, while allowing him to be “rehabilitated” since otherwise, he had excellent character. He also looked rather remorseful despite saying nothing to the family.

In 2011, former Maple Leafs captain Rob Ramage was paroled for getting behind the wheel while drunk, and getting into an accident that killed his friend, retired Blackhawks player Keith Magnuson. He also injured someone in another vehicle. His sentence was four years. How long did he spend behind bars before parole? 10 months.

Our justice system makes a point to balance the factor of punishment for the criminal, and also give them a chance for rehabilitation and to make a contribution in society. But, at what point do we agree that rehabilitation isn't enough of a reason to let people off so lightly? What’s even worse is how much we’re educated not to do it. We’re told to make sure we have a designated driver, to hitch a ride with a taxi, get an Uber even, find any solution that doesn’t involve getting behind a wheel drunk. 

An Uber isn’t pricy, especially when friends cash in together.