Impaired driving charges are on the rise throughout Labrador. Over the past few years, the number of impaired driving charges in both the Labrador district (North coast, central Labrador, and the south coast) and Labrador west has increased.
In the Labrador District, the RCMP laid 44 charges in 2010, 71 in 2011, and 83 in 2012. After the first five weeks of 2013, 8 charges have been laid.
"We're on track to having a similar year to last year, which is a concern," says RCMP Corporal Rick Mills.
The story is very similar in Labrador West. With the high number cases on the dockets at the Wabush Provincial Court, the increase coincides with the rest of the provincial increase according to Statistics Canada, which said in 2011 Newfoundland and Labrador had the largest increase in the country along with British Columbia.
In July 2008, the federal government introduced amendments to Criminal Code provisions on impaired driving. In addition to raising minimum fines, the minimum prison sentences for repeat offenders were increased from 14 days to 30 days for a second offence, and from 90 days to 120 days for subsequent offences.
Inspector Paula Walsh of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in Labrador West said her detachment has seen an increase in the statistics and the number of impaired driving related offences.
"The increase is such that in 2011 there was 27 charges as it relates to alcohol, and including the failures to provide blood samples to police and breathe samples, the number is 38. In 2012, it's up to 48. And in the current year of 2013 we can see there's already an increase in what is was this time last year."
Walsh couldn't speculate if the number of impaired drivers was higher or if the RNC has been having greater success in laying charges.
"What I can say is that because of the due diligence of the RNC frontline police officers who are paying very close attention to this concern in our community we are seeing a number of arrests of individuals for impaired driving."
Corporal Mills believes that the high number of charges in the Labrador district is also due to, in part, the efforts from the RCMP and increased help from the public.
"We're taking a concerted effort in Labrador district to really counter impaired driving through traffic stops...and we're on the road continuously," says Mills. "I think the public is simply fed-up with the amount of impaired driving, and they see it on the news all the time."
President of the MADD Labrador chapter, Shawn Crann, is also fed up with the amount of impaired driving in Labrador.
"The situation is very serious, you only got to go on the court docket to see how serious it is," says Crann.
Crann believes that the number of impaired drivers is on the rise, because the courts aren't providing a deterrent with their sentences.
"There are some good laws in place, but the judges don't want to seem to pass the sentence," says Crann. "They should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The laws are there, they can give them the maximum sentence, but for some reason, they're not doing it...the justice system is not sending the message."
Crann thinks that tougher driving restrictions should be placed on those who are caught drinking on driving, to help ensure that the same individual can't do it again.
"I think a good start would be interlocked breath testing. Anybody charged with impaired driving, before they get their license back, they should have the interlock breath testing device installed in their vehicle, where they have to give a sample of their breath before the vehicle will start," says Crann.
Crann would also like to see the courts confiscating vehicles from those who drink and drive.
"If I went down the bay and came to the dock with a couple of salmon or something aboard my boat, and I take the boat out of the water and hook it up to my truck, I got my trailer, my truck, everything is gone because I got two salmon...they can do it if you're caught poaching a salmon or poaching a moose, but it doesn't seem like a human life has got the same respect that they give to the wildlife."
On a more positive note, both Corporal Mills and Crann believe that educational efforts on the dangers of impaired driving has been working with the younger generations. They both point out that the majority of impaired drivers, in the Labrador district, seem to be middle aged.
"I think it would be fair to say that most of the impaired drivers that we do encounter are middle aged," says Mills. "You get somebody who's 45 years of age, and he's been consuming alcohol for years and he's been driving behind the wheel for years; you're not going to curb that activity but getting up and explaining the effects of impaired driving."
"I see a lot of people in their 40s. Now, you do get the scattered young person in their 20s," says Crann. "One time drinking and driving was accepted socially...you go back to when I was 19 or 20 years old; people didn't think twice of driving to the club, having a few beer and driving home, and it was accepted."