Understanding the effects

Allan Kerpan and his wife Melanie have spent the last four years of their life talking about their daughter Danille.

It never gets easy.

In October 2014, Danille was travelling along Hwy 11 near Bladworth when she was hit head on by an SUV. The driver, a 50-year-old man, had a blood-alcohol content level nearly three times the legal limit. Danille died instantly.

Afterwards, Kerpan sought to try and make something good out of a terrible situation.

“The first thing she would have wanted us to do is to make sure that we try to help alleviate the impaired driving problem that we had and still do have in Saskatchewan,” Kerpan remembered during an interview on Friday. “We got involved in basically anything that people wanted to do that was going to make this better.”

That desire is what spurred them to take part in a new research project designed to help governments and aid agencies aid victims’ families. It’s called “Understanding the Effects of Impaired Driving in Saskatchewan: Perspectives of Family Members of Victims Killed by an Impaired Driver,” and it will be officially presented at a conference in Toronto this weekend.

The process was a hard one for Kerpan, he was eager and willing to take part if it helped people going through the same things he and his wife did.

“The questions aren’t always easy,” he said.

Kerpan was one of 13 individuals interviewed by a joint University of Regina, MADD, and Community Safety Knowledge Alliance (CSKA) research team for the project. The end result was nine new recommendations covering everything from victim education to improvements to victim support services.

University of Regina associate professor Nick Jones, one of the report’s two principal investigators said he’s hopeful the report will aid governments and organizations like MADD in their quests to prevent impaired driving deaths. However, he added that the sense of frustration among those interview was obvious right from the start.

“These (deaths) are preventable,” Jones said on the phone from Toronto, where he plans to present his findings at a MADD conference over the weekend. “These things don’t have to happen. There has to be something that can be done and that was one of the themes coming out near the end: the desire for change.”

In their findings, Jones and fellow lead investigator Jody Burnett called for a broader and more inclusive definition of a “victim” based on the Canadian Victim Bill of Rights. They also called for increased supports for first responders and judicial personnel, who may experience trauma while fulfilling their duties, and more educational opportunities so families could better understand how the court system operates.

Jones said many families who have loved ones killed in an impaired driving collision have little prior experience with the justice system. He’s hoping the report will help create change.

“Some people had good experiences with the police, the prosecutors, the courts, and corrections,” he explained. “Other people certainly did not. In listening to what they had to say, there were certainly some gaps in terms of services to the victims that could be addressed. Things like helping victims understand the criminal justice system (and) what the processes are.”

Allan Kerpan and his wife were fortunate to have a strong knowledge of the justice system, and were given regular updates from the crown prosecutor working the case. However, he acknowledges that’s not the same for every family. His biggest concern is the affects these deaths have on first responders, and, like Jones, he’s hopeful the report can lead to improvements and healing for victims who are falling through the cracks.

“They did a lot of work (on this report) and I think that all agencies, not just government agencies, … I would hope that they look at this and realize that some of the needs of victims are not being met to the full extent,” he said.

“In terms of prevention programs and in terms of gaps and services for victims and understanding the criminal justice system, I think there’s some very difficult things to do,” Jones added. “But, there’s also some fairly easy pickings (with) initiatives that could be brought forward to lessen the negative experience on the part of these people.”

CSKA is a non-profit organization founded in 2015 to assist governments and other groups in designing, developing and implementing new and effective models or approaches to community safety.

For a complete copy of the report, visit www.cskacanada.ca/news.