TORONTO — A Liberal politician whose husband was killed while riding his bicycle wants to change Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act so drivers who injure or kill someone in an accident will face the real possibility of going to jail.
Police say they will charge a motorist with careless driving instead of the more serious Criminal Code offence of dangerous driving when there was no intent to cause harm, which means a maximum jail sentence of six months even if someone dies.
But Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon said a jail sentence is virtually never imposed on careless drivers because the Highway Traffic Act considers the actions of motorists, but doesn’t concern itself with victims.
“A Toronto officer with 29 years on the job, most of them in traffic, said no careless driving charge he was involved with had ever resulted in a jail sentence, despite the fact people have died,” said McMahon.
McMahon’s husband, OPP Sgt. Greg Stobbart, was killed while riding his bike in 2006 by a driver with five previous convictions for driving while suspended, two convictions for driving without insurance and $14,000 in traffic related fines.
“His sentence: his licence was suspended again and he received 100 hours of community service,” she said.
“And just 62 days after this man hit Greg, he hit someone else.”
McMahon’s private member’s bill would add a new offence of careless driving causing death or bodily harm, which would carry a maximum jail sentence of two years.
It would give police a necessary option to fill what they find to be a frustrating gap in the law that doesn’t allow officers to lay a charge that recognizes the seriousness of the offence when someone is hurt or killed in an accident, added McMahon.
“Greg’s frustration with the lack of specificity inherent in Sec. 130 (of the Highway Traffic Act), his frustration at his own inability to lay a charge which fit the offence, is something I heard about all too often,” she said.
“To see it play out in a case that took his life was shattering.”
Transportation Minister Steven DelDuca said he’s always looking for ways to make highways safer, but wouldn’t commit to passing McMahon’s bill.
“We’re going to take a look at the specific legislation she’s brought forward and figure out if this is the best way to move forward,” he said. “All of our road safety partners have expressed concern to me about this.”
Toronto Police Const. Hugh Smith said it took higher fines and demerit points to change people’s behaviour about texting and driving, and he expects increased fines, demerit points and the real possibility of jail could do the same for careless driving.
“This bill provides clarity,” he said. “The deterrent will help.”
Bruce Chapman of the Police Association of Ontario also welcomed McMahon’s initiative to create the offence of careless driving causing death or bodily harm.
“Hopefully this will add as a deterrent to drivers,” said Champman. “By introducing this bill it gives some teeth to the police.”
Private member’s bills rarely become law in Ontario, but McMahon said she wanted this one to stand in her name instead of becoming a government bill.
“I asked them to carry this through as a private member’s bill because the issue is so personally important to me,” she said. “I’m confident with the support that I have that this will become law, in short order hopefully.”