The commanding officer of the RCMP on P.E.I. says she's deeply concerned by the "culture" of impaired driving on the Island.
Chief Supt. Jennifer Ebert told a government standing committee Wednesday that her officers are on pace to make more impaired driving arrests this year than in either of the last two years — despite fewer drivers being on the road overall due to COVID-19 restrictions and work from home policies.
In 2018, RCMP action led to 173 people being charged with impaired driving in the regions policed by Mounties (Charlottetown and Summerside have their own police forces and statistics).
Last year, that number jumped to 222, reversing a 40-year trend that saw impaired driving convictions steadily decrease from a peak of 1,570 in 1980.
Now drunk driving appears to be back on the rise, with 185 drivers charged as a result of RCMP arrests so far this year as of Oct. 1, and the busy holiday season lying ahead.
'More dramatic this year'
"I've been now on the Island for three years, and it's ever increasing, I would suggest," Ebert told the committee of MLAs.
"And it's been more dramatic this year with the number of drivers on the road reduced, and we're still seeing the numbers."
I do believe it is, for lack of a better term, the culture on P.E.I. that has allowed this to happen. — Jennifer Ebert, commanding officer of RCMP on P.E.I.
Ebert told the standing committee on health and social development that this year's numbers are also concerning because many events that typically fuel drinking and driving — such as festivals, weddings and other big parties — haven't gone ahead.
Addiction issues are no doubt part of the problem — perhaps more so this year given the stressors that have come with the pandemic, Ebert said — but she maintains the bigger issue is a cultural one.
"I do believe it is, for lack of a better term, the culture on P.E.I. that has allowed this to happen. If you've grown up watching a parent, a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt drive impaired, then you don't think it's a problem."
Stiff penalties already
The province already has some of the toughest penalties in the country for impaired driving. Several committee members asked her what more could actually be done.
"This is something that I'm very passionate about. However, I don't know how to change that driver behaviour, and I wish I did."
She said family and friends can play a part, by stopping an impaired driver from getting behind the wheel or calling police if they know someone is over the limit and still driving.
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