OPINION: Naming and shaming impaired drivers isn’t likely to help anyone

by | Dec 12, 2018 | Opinion

Michelle Rowe-Jardine
News Editor

I don’t even get out of bed anymore when I hear the sound of a car crash.

Once, the heart-stopping screech of a collision would jolt me from my bedside and I’d rush to the front steps to join the neighbours. We’d all huddle together in our slippers gasping and gossiping. Someone would note how a pulverized recycling bin on the curb could have easily been one of us.

Now, I just roll over in bed and wait for the inevitable sounds of sirens to follow.

I live in a neighbourhood with a high accident rate and I still don’t support the new “naming and shaming” campaign of the York Regional Police.

The YRP are apparently at their wits’ end with the rampant impaired driving cases in their jurisdiction. In a press release they said they’ve laid about 1,400 impaired driving-related charges so far this year.

So, on Dec. 3 they announced a new tactic: Every Monday they would be publishing the names of all people charged with driving while impaired.

The first 16 names became available on their website last week along with their specific charges. This week another 25 names were added to the list.

The rationale, according to a YRP press release, is to make impaired driving even more socially unacceptable. The idea is that people will be so concerned with being publicly embarrassed that they’ll refuse that last drink and reduce the number of intoxicated people on the road.

Go into any karaoke bar on the weekend and it’s pretty clear that people under the influence are not concerned with things like embarrassment or with giving “Bohemian Rhapsody” the respect it deserves.

Why presume a public calling out system would make them respect the roads? There’s no easily obtainable data to confirm this method even reduces impaired driving.

Still, YRP joins the ranks of other Ontario police forces using this tactic, including Halton, South Simcoe and Durham.

I get it. I’ve seen about a dozen car crashes from my north Toronto apartment in the two years since moving in. They’re gruesome even when no one gets hurt but YRP have reported five impaired driving related deaths this year alone.

York is still reeling from the case of Marco Muzzo, the man who killed three children and their grandfather in 2015 while driving under the influence.

But public shaming brings up the constitutional question: What happened to being innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?

This campaign turns police into judge, jury and executioner in the eyes of the public. It broadcasts these names as guilty parties before they’ve even set foot in a courtroom.

If a defendant is found not guilty, will YRP be releasing a separate weekly list absconding them of this horrible crime?

Even if they took on that responsibility of judicial fairness, it would probably be too late for many of the accused to recover from the social backlash.

I began looking up some of the names recently published by the YRP only to find Google autocompleting them before I could finish typing. The public is clearly very interested in knowing who these people are and angry social media mobs have been formed over much less.

That’s why it’s so important to get it right and circumventing the justice system to make a point is not right.

Impaired driving is selfish and stupid and it puts other peoples’ lives seriously at risk. Tarnishing someone’s reputation prematurely is also irresponsible and could put people in danger of angry community members.

An eye for an eye is the law of retaliation, but it’s not the law. Two wrongs don’t make a right— that’s what the justice system is for— so let’s use it.