The annual campaign to stop impaired driving kicked off Friday with a number of guest speakers, including Premier Sandy Silver, who lost a favourite cousin to a drunk driver.
The launch of Project Red Ribbon 2020 by Mothers Against Drunk Driving was held at the Whitehorse branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.
The annual Red Ribbon campaign is designed to encourage individuals to wear the ribbon, or attach it to their vehicles, as a sign of their commitment to drive sober and discourage others from driving impaired.
Whitehorse MADD president Jacquelyn Van Marck noted in her opening remarks the Legion has partnered with her organization, and MADD will now be headquartered at the Legion.
Van Marck welcomed guest speaker after guest speaker, some 15 in all.
Many had personal stories of how family members or close friends were killed by drunk drivers.
At the head of the room was a MADD Memorial Wall with some 816 pictures of people killed on the roadways – pictures of children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, neighbours.
The wall represented only a fraction of the people drunks have killed across the country.
Coun. Jesse Dawson of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation told the audience of how the First Nation community lost two youth not long ago in a collision involving an impaired driver.
“People phoned around,” she said. “Have you seen my son, have you seen my daughter? The anxiety level was very high. I was looking around for my son.”
As Yukoners remain enmeshed by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dawson said, they must not lose sight of the importance of driving sober and encouraging others to drive sober.
“I want to acknowledge and support the MADD organization for being the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves,” she said, in obvious reference to those killed by drunk drivers.
“It’s very important for the RCMP to come and support MADD whenever we can because impaired driving every single year impacts families across Canada, and Yukon is no different,” RCMP Supt. Chan Daktari Dara told the audience.
“Every year, lives are shattered because people drive drunk and either get involved in a crash that kills themselves, innocent people, or due to the massive impact, somebody lives forever through other injuries or hardship that impaired driving causes.”
Silver suggested in his address Yukoners don’t seem to be getting the message.
“Unfortunately, since 2014, rates of impaired driving in the Yukon have been higher than the rest of Canada, and last year alone there were 425 charges laid,” Silver said.
“We have the second-highest rate of motor vehicle deaths and injuries in the country, and alcohol remains one of the leading causes.
“It is unacceptable, and things have to change.”
Impaired driving tragedy is preventable, the premier lamented.
Yet it keeps happening, and he’s seen in his hometown of Dawson City, and at his boyhood home in Antigonish, N.S.
Silver said Yukoners need to speak up when somebody they know is making a bad choice that puts others in danger. Call 9-1-1 if you know somebody is impaired or you think impaired.
Laws and enforcement are important, but everybody needs to be involved, he said.
“We need to talk more about impaired driving and come together to create a culture where it is socially unacceptable to drink or do drugs and then get behind the wheel.”
Silver offered his gratitude to the police, paramedics, firefighters and medical staff who witness the aftermath of tragedy brought on by drunk drivers.
“I have been a witness to a lot of tragedy, and it’s unnecessary and can be fixed through education,” paramedic Jon Trefrey, a veteran of 25 years here, said in his presentation.
Trefrey noted he and a territorial cabinet minister participated in last year’s check stop program.
It was interesting to see the reactions of drivers watching them walk up to the window after the RCMP had finished doing their check, he said.
Trefrey said the public was generally thankful for their participation in the check stop program, and for MADD organizing it.
The paramedic said he echoed the comments of the speakers before him. He noted how he also works with youth through a separate program – Prevent Reduce Trauma in Youth.
It works, he said.
Local outdoors columnist Murray Martin read out a poem he wrote in memory of his brother, who was killed in Ontario by a drunk driver 50 years ago.
It was about how people think they’re invisible, think they can drink and drive with immunity, particularly during the holiday season.
It ends with a father hearing a thump as he rounds a corner near his home.
It’s not until the police show up at his door did he know his daughter was in the hospital after being struck by a car.
“The hospital was silent when he walked through the door
He reached out and touched the hand that seem to be growing cold
I waved to you dear Daddy when I saw your car draw near
I guess you didn’t see me as it’s your merry time of year
He stood there shocked, as her little hand grew cold
If only there had been a spot check, he would not have drank so bold.”