A man who pleaded guilty to three counts of impaired driving causing the death of two cyclists and a passenger in his own vehicle in 2015 near Pemberton, B.C., has been sentenced to eight years and four months in prison minus time served.
Cyclists Ross Chafe, 50, and Kelly Blunden, 53, were riding down a steep, winding hill on the Duffey Lake Road section of Highway 99 when a vehicle driven by Samuel Alec crossed the centre line and hit them head-on.
52-year-old Paul Pierre Jr., a passenger in the vehicle, also died in the crash.
During the sentencing, the judge noted Alec's troubled background. He said Alec began drinking and smoking marijuana at age 10.
"Mr. Alec's childhood was marred by periods of neglect and abuse," Justice William Ehrcke said, noting Alec was a victim of physical and sexual abuse.
Intergenerational trauma a factor
The effects of intergenerational trauma caused by the legacy of residential schools played a prominent role in the sentencing.
In all cases involving Indigenous offenders, the court must consider the Aboriginal heritage and experience, including systemic factors. This is done with what's known as a Gladue report, which looks at relevant factors in an individual case.
The report is taken as a guide, and Ehrcke referred to Aboriginal background as a mitigating factor in the sentence, along with factors like demonstrated remorse, and the fact that Alec had entered a guilty plea, eliminating the need for a trial.
Alec's mother, Georgina Alec, testified about the abuse she endured at a Fraser Valley residential school and how that affected her ability to be a parent.
"I learned my parenting skills from those priests and nuns — to be abusive. To be put down. I know I wasn't a good mother," she said.
Response to the sentence
John Rufh is Chafe's cousin. He spoke to media on behalf of his family outside the courthouse on Friday.
"We're not extremely happy with how the events unfolded. We were looking for a longer term to deter any future people that go down this road," said Rufh.
"We feel we have a life sentence that we have to go through and deal with," he said. "It's very difficult to swallow."
"I don't know what an appropriate sentence is, but eight years isn't right," said Rufh.
Pierre's younger brother, Dion Pierre, was at the court to hear the sentencing decision.
"I was expecting six years or something around that range. I was happy with his apology in the previous court days. [I'm] just wishing this kind of tragedy doesn't happen to anybody else," said Pierre, who knows Alec and his family.
"I think it's fair. My brother's friends in Pemberton, they're saying that it's going to be in his head the rest of his life. It's not going to go away.
Pierre said it was frustrating that Alec ignored warnings and failed to give up the car keys before the tragic crash.
But Pierre said he understood the role Alec's Indigenous background played in the sentence, saying he too was still healing from a difficult background.
Crown sought a sentence of 12 years in prison, minus time served, which would have been the longest sentence for impaired driving causing death in Canadian history. The defence asked for four years.
Alec has been in custody since August 2015.