Five years ago Sudbury, Ontario witnessed a drunk driving tragedy on a scale rarely imagined. A man named Nicholas Piovesan left a bar and drove 2km before striking and killing three teenagers. The oldest was sixteen.
Piovesan was sent to prison for seven years, at the time the harshest sentence ever given for criminal negligence in Canada. And now, five years later, he is about to be released.
For many, including some members of the victims’ families, it is too soon. But the question of punishment vehicular homicide, in DUI and other cases, is a difficult one to sort out. The Criminal Code of Canada has provisions for criminal negligence, dangerous driving and impaired driving causing death. Sentences can vary, but even those sentenced to life can apply for parole after 7 years.
What is the proper sentence for such a crime, where there was no homicidal intent, but clear reckless and thoughtless disregard for life on the part of the driver? In a similar case in California a woman got 55 years. Most sentences are less, but it’s worth remembering the purposes of any kind of judicial punishment.
- Retribution. This is the harm that society inflicts on the offender because of the harm the offender has committed.
- Incapacitation. A drunk driver in prison can no longer commit that crime. Ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are another form of incapacitation.
- Rehabilitation. Some measures, such as counseling, are designed to help the offender change his or her ways.
- Deterrence. A message must be sent to other potential offenders, letting them know the consequences of drunk driving.
- Restitution. Fines and civil awards are meant to compensate the victim in some way for the damage he or she has caused.
It is easy to sympathize with those who think that Piovesan’s sentence was too light. It probably was. But retribution alone will not prevent such crimes from happening again. That takes a commitment from all of Ontario and all of Canadian society to change a culture that is still too tolerant of drunk drivers. That means fostering a climate in which the idea of getting behind the wheel while drunk would be considered insanely reckless. Which is exactly what it is.