Two and a half years after the death of his wife, Brad Ashenbrenner stood with Conservative MP Michael Cooper to advocate for stricter criminal consequence to impaired driving.
On April 5, 2016, Ashenbrenner’s wife, RCMP Const. Sarah Beckett, was killed by impaired driver Kenneth “Jake” Fenton.
On Monday morning Ashenbrenner and Cooper stood at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria advocating for amendments to Bill C-75, a 300-page act making changes to the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts.
“Impaired driving is serious, it’s the leading criminal cause of death in Canada,” Cooper said. “The fact remains that individuals who make that choice to get behind the wheel impaired, time and again, receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist. “
That was certainly the case for Fenton, Cooper argued. Fenton was a repeat offender, already holding two prior 24-hour driving prohibitions from drinking and driving, and he got in an accident six weeks after killing Const. Beckett, causing a serious accident that injured himself and his passenger after driving drunk.
For his actions Fenton was given four years in prison.
“How much carnage on our roads do you have to cause before you’re finally held accountable?” Cooper asked, saying that Bill C-75 looks for a minimal level of accountability.
Bill C-75 reclassifies more than 130 criminal offences which are currently listed in the Criminal Code as serious, indictable offences.
Cooper said that the bill “waters down those offences down to hybrid offences, which means they can be prosecutable by way of summary conviction.”
This also holds the possibility of shifting maximum sentence time from 10 years to two years less a day.
The bill comes as a result of the Supreme Court R v Jordan decision to minimize wait times in court, but Cooper argues that shifting these indictable offences to provincial courts will only overwhelm an already over-burdened judicial system. He said that in addition to more work, the set time for a reasonable conviction in provincial court is only 18 months, compared to a supreme court time limit of 30 months. This means the provincial courts would have less time to process more cases.
While the national organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and other politicians have advocated for education as the biggest tool against drunk driving, Ashenbrenner disagreed, saying Fenton didn’t learn from his previous offences.
“It’s hard knowing that Fenton’s actions cost him four years of his life, while they have amounted to a life sentences for me and my boys, and worse, how do I try to explain that to them when they get older?” Ashenbrenner asked. “This should not become a political battle to point out what’s right from wrong.”
The bill has gone through its second reading and is currently being examined by Canada’s Justice Committee. It will go back to the House of Commons shortly for amendments and its third reading.
For Ashenbrenner, no time is soon enough, especially considering Fenton will soon be eligible for day-time parole.
“I saw Jake Fenton in a parking lot one time,” Ashenbrenner said, “He was laughing, smiling, going on with life like nothing happened. It took everything in me to get back in my truck and leave. This country really caters to criminals, they’ve got to quite coddling them. The victims are truly the victims.”