It has been two years since judges in Prince Edward Island took the country’s harshest stance on impaired drivers—imposing mandatory jail time for virtually everyone convicted of being above the legal limit. In Canada, eight per cent of those convicted of driving under the influence in 2011 served time in custody. In P.E.I., 93 per cent were sentenced to jail time. While the move was controversial, the judges claimed it was necessary for public safety.
Perhaps, but the province’s jails may be the ones hardest hit by the new approach.
Alanna Taylor, a Charlottetown defence lawyer, says it is “fairly typical” that one-third to one-half of cases going through the courts on any given day are impaired-driving charges. According to Statistics Canada, 28 per cent of all guilty cases in P.E.I. are for impaired driving, compared to 16 per cent elsewhere. With short jail terms now the norm even for first-time offenders, they’ve become commonly known as “weekenders,” and the provincial jails are feeling it.
Despite adding a wing in 2010, the province’s main jail, on Sleepy Hollow Road in northern Charlottetown, continues to be overcrowded. And the province even expanded a youth correctional facility in Summerside for overflow inmates.
Despite the almost inevitable prison sentences, the provincial rate of impaired driving has decreased only slightly—by three per cent—since 2010. Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, says that a short jail sentence for a DUI is not enough disincentive. Going to jail for the weekend, he says, is a minor inconvenience, “but it’s no worse than going to a cousin’s wedding.”