Life in prison not enough for killer drunk driver
September 11, 2009
Quebec Court Judge Michel Mercier resisted the temptation to go down in history as the first judge to send a killer drunk driver to jail permanently as a "dangerous offender." If he got the legal point right, then Parliament should change the law: Roger Walsh should never be anywhere near any car keys ever again.
Walsh, 57, had amassed 18 drunk-driving convictions - never mind his 114 assault convictions - before last Oct. 23 when, with twice the legal alcohol limit in his system, he smashed into and killed wheelchair-bound Anee Khudaverdian, on her 47th birthday. He managed to drive eight kms away from the scene of his crime without killing anyone else before he steered into a ditch.
Isn't that dangerous enough?
Yes, alcoholism is a disease. But when a disease leads to repeated dangerous acts, quarantine is needed to protect others. If the courts had been doing their job, Walsh would still be serving a long sentence for, say, conviction number six, and Anee Khudaverdian's family would be planning her 48th birthday party next month.
Some argue that the "life sentence" Judge Mercier imposed is almost as effective as dangerous offender status. But it isn't. The 300-plus people who have been designated dangerous offenders can be sentenced to "indeterminate" prison terms - legalese for throwing away the key. But Walsh's sentence leaves him with a better chance at parole in just seven years. He'll be 64.
The dangerous offender provision - Criminal Code Sec. 753 - was not, the judge noted correctly, written for drunk drivers; it is aimed at incorrigible sex offenders.
But by declining to use this legal tool against this incorrigible drunk driver, the courts have left Canadians more vulnerable than we should be. Will Roger Walsh kill again? Ask again in a few years.
It's refreshing to see that someone, somewhere is actually starting to take this stuff seriously. I cannot adequately express my level of surprise however, to see that this is happening in the Province of Québec, itself a bastion of lawlessness. This whole use of drunkenness as a mitigating factor in sentencing, has been no more than a system of enabling those who are in fact alcoholics.
Alcoholism is a disease, yes. But it is NOT one which robs an individual of choice. This misguided and indeed perverse belief, that an alcoholic has no choice over whether he/she drinks or not, has been a major factor in many alcoholics never feeling the need to change their behaviour. Everytime an individual takes that first drink, it is because he or she chooses to do so. Therefore they are ultimately responsible and culpable, for everything which transpires following that initial decision.
We have no choice over whether we are alcoholics or not. We will be alcoholics until the day that we die. We DO however have a choice over whether we decide to be a practising one, or one who is in recovery.
That is a decision that we as individuals, consciously make. And that makes all the difference in the world...