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Grewal vows to fight for tougher drunk driving laws

Conservative MPs Russ Hiebert and Nina Grewal take differing views on how to approach stricter drinking driving laws. - File
Conservative MPs Russ Hiebert and Nina Grewal take differing views on how to approach stricter drinking driving laws.
— image credit: File

One Surrey MP will be taking the issue of tougher penalties for drunk driving to Ottawa, while another is taking a wait-and-see approach.

A call for mandatory minimum sentences went out last week from the family of 22-year-old Kassandra Kaulius, who was struck and killed by a car believed to have been driven by a drunk driver on May 3.

Last week, the Kaulius family gave an impassioned plea for tougher penalties for drinking and driving.

They called for zero tolerance of any alcohol before driving and a two-year driving suspension for someone arrested for drinking and driving.

If that person is involved in an accident, Kassandra's mother Markita Kaulius wants to see a five-year minimum jail sentence, and a charge of vehicular homicide if someone is killed in that accident.

During a press conference last week, the Kaulius family mentioned that Nina Grewal, the MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells, attended the memorial service for Kassandra.

"It was really sad, my heart goes to the family," Grewal said Thursday.

Kaulius family members, who  live in Grewal's riding, haven't been in touch with her yet, but Grewal looks forward to bringing their wish for tougher penalties to Ottawa.

Grewal noted there is already a mandatory penalty of $1,000 for a first offense involving drunk driving, a jail sentence of 30 days for a second offense and 120 days for a third.

"Despite all of these improvements, more work still needs to be done," Grewal said. She will be talking with the federal minister of justice Rob Nicholson about the possibility of bringing forward stronger mandatory minimums.

"I'll be in touch with the family," Grewal said. "The law should be tougher, I agree with them 100 per cent, so that no one else dares go on the road (after) drinking alcohol."

Russ Hiebert, the MP for South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, said mandatory minimum sentences should be reserved for when judges are clearly falling short on sentencing.

The Kaulius accident was extremely tragic, he said, and the issue the family is talking about now has his attention.

"I think it's a little bit early to say the sentencing for these types of crimes is inappropriate," Hiebert said. "I would like to know that there is a pattern of judges handing sentences that aren't proportionate to the seriousness of the crime."

He notes several factors are often considered, such as the level of intoxication, previous drinking and driving record, mental health issues, or whether street racing was involved.

"All of these factors need to be considered," Hiebert said. "I think it's important for judges to have some latitude to evaluate those things."

Joining the Kaulius family at last week's press conference was Laurel Middelaer, whose four-year-old daughter Alexa was killed three years ago by a drunk driver.

The drunk driver in that case was sentenced to two and a half years in jail and got a five-year driving prohibition.

Laurel said in her case, the judge was bound by 25 years of case law, "25 years of really light sentencing," she said.

"The issue of impaired driving is a nut that needs to be cracked," Laurel said. "And the reality of what your seeing in this family today, is the reality that four families face every day in Canada."

She said the solution is like a three-legged stool, including education, enforcement and the application of the law.

The first two, in this country, are outstanding.

"The part of the stool that is causing everything to be off balance, is the application of justice," Laurel said. "There is a void  there, and that is the area that needs to be addressed."

The Kaulius family is also circulating a petition for changes in law which will allow judges to hand out more meaningful sentences.

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