‘The pain never goes away’

Signs around P.A. placed at locations where police have caught and charged impaired drivers

Karen Anthony-Burns speaks at a conference to unveil a new signage initiative to prevent impaired driving on Sept. 1, 2020. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

Karen Anthony-Burns had just celebrated her son’s 21st birthday—Just nine days later, she was preparing for his funeral.

That was back in September of 2010, nearly a decade ago, when Daniel Carter was struck by an impaired driver while crossing the street in Prince Albert. He was on life support before he died in hospital two days after the collision.

Anthony-Burns shared her story at the unveiling of a new Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), SGI and Prince Albert Police Service program on Tuesday morning.

The three groups have collaborated to put signs up around the city where police have caught and charged impaired drivers. The goal is to both encourage people to call 911 when they suspect someone is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and to deter people from getting behind the wheel while impaired.

Prince Albert is the fourth city in Saskatchewan to implement the program, along with Regina, Saskatoon and Estevan.

“It’s a risk that can result in tragedy, as my family knows too well,” said Anthony-Burns of MADD about Carter’s death.

“This is the most devastating thing our family has had to endure and the pain never goes away.”

Every two weeks, the police will be sending MADD Prince Albert a list of locations where people were charged with impaired driving. When they receive a new list, they’ll switch the signs around.

The signs are set up at locations where police have caught and charged impaired drivers, and will be moved as other charges arise. This one was set up at the 600 block of Seventh Street East on Sept. 1, 2020. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

“It really feels impactful, especially when you see those signs in residential areas because I think people don’t realize that there are impaired drivers on the road all over our city,” said Anthony-Burns.

“It’s kind of a good indication that the police are out there, people are watching and if you think you can just go from point A to point B (after) you’ve had drinks, well no, no you can’t.”

Mayor Greg Dionne commended members of MADD, such as Anthony-Burns, for being vulnerable and sharing their stories. Despite this, he said, people don’t seem to be getting the message that it’s unacceptable to drive impaired.

“I’m a little more radical than MADD. I believe those signs, instead of saying ‘Impaired driver caught here,’ it should say the person’s name…If we have to shame you to stop you from drinking and driving, I think that’s a small price to pay,” said Dionne.

“Cars are weapons, and they’re heavy weapons and they have to be dealt with that way.”

Dionne said part of the reason that impaired driving numbers are alarmingly high is because the courts and corrections systems don’t provide enough of a deterrent.

Danielle Chamakese, who was convicted of impaired driving causing death after hitting Carter, received a sentence of 26 months in jail. However, Anthony-Burns said she received day parole after seven months and then full parole after 10.

“We’ve had impaired drivers not even go to the penitentiary, who go to halfway houses and healing lodges. That’s not right. If you want someone to stop something, you have to have a deterrent and deterrent starts with our system, and our system has to hold to the ground that impaired driving is going to be zero tolerance,” said Dionne.

“If you get caught and you kill somebody and you get two years, it’s two years. We have to step it up.”

Prince Albert police Chief Jon Bergen said up until August this year, the service has recorded 83 investigations involving impaired driving in the city. There were 127 impaired driving complaints in 2019, 155 in 2018 and 191 in 2017.

“Alcohol and drug-impaired driving is preventable—100 per cent preventable. And the responsibility falls on all of us to make sure we are sober before we get behind that wheel,” he said.

Instead, you should call a taxi, family member or friend to drive you, arrange a designated driver, or stay the night. SGI also funds a number of impaired driving prevention initiatives, such as free transit on New Year’s Eve.

SGI also partners with Operation Red Nose, which operates during the holiday season, where volunteers will drive you and your vehicle home.

“The reason we’re here today is because impaired driving has damaged far too many families across our province,” said Joe Hargrave, minister responsible for SGI and Prince Albert Carlton MLA.

Hargrave said Saskatchewan had a record low number of impaired driving-related deaths and injuries in 2019. Police still catch between 250 and 400 impaired drivers every year in the province, sometimes even more.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but we need to continue.”

Anthony-Burns has been advocating for impaired driving prevention since Carter’s death.

This includes receiving a grant from MADD Canada to install a memorial bench along the Rotary Trail last year. She also sits on the Community Alcohol Strategy Steering Committee, which aims to help the city’s residents develop a better relationship with alcohol.