During last year’s May long weekend, 29-year-old Joshua Moore picked up four passengers from a house party and went for a drunk and reckless drive resulting in injury, death and incarceration.
After swerving to avoid an oncoming vehicle, the car went off the road near Prosperous Lake and landed in a pond.
Karen Lafferty died in the crash, two other passengers were badly injured and Moore received a relatively lenient sentence of 18 months behind bars.
The incident capped off a terrible week – which happened to be National Road Safety Week no less – where 11 people were charged with impaired driving in the NWT.
Fast forward to this year and a sliver of hope: there was no upsurge in impaired driving charges over the May long weekend and an RCMP safety blitz in Yellowknife over the Labour Day weekend did not turn up a single impaired driver.
We hope what we’re seeing is a greater awareness among drivers that is starting to bearing fruit. We hope an increased number of check stops is making drivers think twice before engaging in drunk driving.
The increase was made possible by a change in RCMP policy. Police no longer answer to calls about intoxicated persons unless there is violence.
These calls are now directed to the city’s street outreach program and the sobering centre, thus freeing up police to focus on more serious matters, such as impaired driving.
That is how Matt Peggs, the former commander of the Yellowknife RCMP detachment, sold the change in policy to the public. People were initially worried about the additional burden on the city’s ambulance service and hospitals but it seems to have been a good trade off so far. The less time police spend chasing drunks, the more time they can spend keeping roads safe.
The fact remains, the Northwest Territories has one of the highest rates of drinking and driving in the country, according to a number of reports from Statistics Canada.
In fact, a 2013 report found the territory’s impaired driving rate was more than five times the national average.
Like many of the NWTs alarming crime statistics, these figures can’t be taken at face value because our small population skews results but they are still not encouraging.
In August, Statistics Canada released yet more alarming numbers in its National Cannabis Survey, which found that 26.8 per cent of Yellowknifers had used cannabis in the last three months.
Behind Iqaluit, Yellowknife has the second highest percentage of admitted cannabis users of all the territorial and provincial capitals.
That same study also found that a number of people are also driving high and with legalization just around the corner, Yellowknife RCMP might have its hands full.
The new roadside saliva device , the Drager 5000, is reportedly unreliable in the cold and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has reported that it is unlikely to reach its goal of having 2,000 officers trained to spot drug-impaired drivers when marijuana becomes legal on Oct. 17.
With uncertainty on the horizon, hopefully police can maintain their hard-won gains.