Toronto

'Only one story': Father of man killed by drunk driver speaks as OPP announce 10,000 charges this year

The father of one victim killed by a drunk driver says it's a tragedy that "didn't have to happen." Ontario Provincial Police say they laid 10,000 impaired driving charges in 2023, an increase of 16 per cent from the year before.

Charges up 16% from last year, OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt says

A man in a red and black plaid shirt smiles.
Robert Carreau was hit and killed by a drunk driver while on a morning jog in Muskoka in November 2020. (Submitted by Robert Carreau)

Robert Carreau holds back tears as he recounts the day in November 2020 when his son was killed by a drunk driver.

His son, also named Robert, was then a headmaster at a private school in Muskoka. He was out for a morning run with two colleagues when a driver hit him while driving at a high speed.

Carreau's son left behind a wife and four kids.

"You can imagine the sorrow that day, the sorrow in that household as [Robert's wife] told her four children, and then told us, and we told our children, Rob was one of four children, then the campus knew and all the schoolchildren knew," Carreau said.

"All because someone made a decision that morning to drive impaired ... This didn't have to happen."

A OPP squad car seen close up.
Ontario Provincial Police have laid more than 1,200 impaired driving charges since launching its 'Festive R.I.D.E' enforcement program in November. (Dave Chidley/CBC)

The then 57-year-old man who hit Carreau's son pleaded guilty to driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, according to local media, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail,12 months probation, and a two-year driving ban.

Robert Carreau now volunteers as president of the Toronto chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada.

"I believe that by telling this story, Rob's story, that it honours him and in that way it may be preventing somebody else from making a decision that could take a life," Carreau said. "This is only one story. There are almost 1,700 stories a year in Canada."

215 impaired driving charges in past week alone: OPP

In Ontario, provincial police said more people were caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs compared to last year. Road crashes involving drugs or alcohol also increased, according to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

Sgt. Kerry Schmidt told CBC Toronto the OPP charged more than 1,200 drivers with impaired driving since the provincial police force launched its annual "Festive R.I.D.E" enforcement campaign in November, an effort to keep impaired drivers off the road during the holiday season. OPP officers laid 215 impaired driving charges in the past week alone, Schmidt said.

That brings the total number of impaired driving charges laid so far in 2023 to 10,000, according to Schmidt, which is a 16 per cent increase compared to the year before. 

Schmidt said OPP officers were called to a total 1,800 impaired driving crashes in 2023, a 10 per cent increase compared to last year.

"This is absolutely unacceptable ... these are numbers that should not be increasing," Schmidt said in an interview with CBC Toronto. 

"When we look at the leading causes of death and injury, impaired driving is one of them."

Schmidt said 397 people have died in road crashes this year, 49 of which involved drugs or alcohol.

"We have not seen 400 [road deaths] since 2004 and with a few days left to go before the new year, I'm nervous that we're going to breach that number," Schmidt said.

"Drivers need to make better decisions before you start drinking. You need to have a plan as to how you're getting home and if you drink, don't drive. And if you drive, don't drink."

'A lot more work to be done'

Steven Sullivan, CEO of MADD Canada, said the rise in numbers could be explained by the fact that more people are out and about this year due to fewer worries about the spread of COVID-19.

Sullivan said it might also be that police are using their enforcement tools more effectively, including mandatory alcohol screening, which allows officers to demand a breath sample from anyone that they've stopped lawfully. Officers are also better trained to detect and identify drug-impaired drivers, Sullivan said.

"I think there's a combination of reasons, but any time you have an increase, that's a concern, I think, for anyone who is worried about road safety, worried about their families, especially this time of year when we know people are out and about a lot more," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said education and awareness campaigns have helped to reduce the number of people who drive impaired significantly over the past few decades, but some people still aren't getting the message.

"There's a lot more work to be done," he said. "Our message to everybody is, you know, enjoy yourself, consume those products safely. Just make sure you're not coupling the consumption with driving."

Police forces across Ontario will continue to conduct R.I.D.E. checks for impaired drivers until Jan. 1.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan is a reporter with CBC Toronto. He has also worked for CBC in Vancouver, Yellowknife and Ottawa, filing for web, radio and TV. You can reach him by email at ryan.jones@cbc.ca.

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