December 12, 2020

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When a police force in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan put out a call for help combating impaired driving, a grandmother answered.

Connie Hagel started the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) chapter in Estevan two years ago and didn’t have to think twice.

“I saw a few tweets that the police chief put out … so I thought, maybe, I could make a difference,” she said.

“They didn’t have anybody that would run it … I answered the call, I guess.”

Estevan Police Service Chief Paul Ladouceur remembers using social media to ask the public for help.

“I came to Estevan as the chief of police in 2014 in the heat of the oil boom … and I certainly noticed very quickly the amount of impaired driving within the community and that maybe there wasn’t enough emphasis placed on the seriousness of it,” Ladouceur said.

“We felt the city certainly could use a MADD program again, being developed, to deal with the extensive impaired driving issues we had in the community … so Connie stepped up to the plate.

“I’ve been policing for 27 years and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with that level of dedication and passion when it comes to reducing impaired driving.”

Ladouceur said one of Hagel’s hallmark accomplishments was the implementation of the “impaired driver caught here” sign program in Estevan.

“It really reminds people when you’re driving through a city and you see those signs that impaired driving is real. And I think what surprises people even more is some of the locations. I mean, we’ve had those signs in school zones,” he said.

“A lot of people think impaired driving just happens on main roads or bar districts or things like that but they don’t realize that someone was caught two blocks from where their child goes to the playground.

“I think it really drives the message home that impaired driving is a serious issue.”

The idea grew and helped Hagel receive this year’s national volunteer of the year award from MADD Canada.

“We just thought it up in our community and we started putting them up. Then the other chapters thought that was a good idea. (Saskatchewan Government Insurance) has picked up the idea,” Hagel said.

“It just kind of snowballed then it went into … Regina and now it’s all across Canada.”

Ladouceur said Hagel was also deserving of the award for her efforts in raising awareness about the dangers of alcohol and drug impaired driving when officers conduct high-visibility check stops.

 

“At a check stop, it’s not just the police. It could be your neighbour who volunteers for MADD. So this is sending the message that not only is impaired driving criminal, it’s socially unacceptable and I think that has a stronger deterrent than even criminal law does,” Ladouceur said.

“If you take cigarette smoking and you look back 50 years ago and you look at it today, and it’s not illegal to smoke a cigarette, but it’s become more and more socially unacceptable.

“And if you look at impaired driving, I think you’re seeing people speak up a lot more and you’re seeing it become very socially unacceptable to get behind the wheel impaired.”

According to the chief, Estevan police saw a 27 per cent decrease in total violations that include impaired driving from 2019-20.

“And we’ve seen a 27 per cent decrease just this year from last year and we’ve slowly but steadily been going down. We’re really happy to see those numbers start to decline,” Ladouceur said.

“I can tell you that we put a lot of emphasis on it between the MADD program, high-visibility check stops and training several officers as drug recognition experts in standardized field sobriety testing.

“We’ll take any help we can get, so this isn’t about pride. It’s about priority and I think MADD has done a remarkable job … I think MADD in this city and this area is certainly in good hands with Connie.”

Estevan’s MADD chapter has grown to 15 volunteers but Hagel said hasn’t reached her destination.

“I think I’m making a bit of a difference … I guess people are getting the idea not to drive impaired and I’m out with check stops and I try to do as much as I can in the community to make people aware,” Hagel said.

“(Impaired driving) is still a problem everywhere. You’re never going to have zero people caught.”

There are six MADD chapters in Saskatchewan with the others located in Meadow Lake, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon.