Drug, alcohol abuse renders our community less safe

In this week’s paper, ironically and by coincidence, the same tale (or versions of it) is told from quite different perspectives.

The point of convergence is the effect that alcohol and drug abuse have on individual people, their families and, sadly, on other people with whom those who abuse these substances may only have chance encounters.

Such a “chance encounter” is the experience of the man whose body was broken last Wednesday and who continues to fight for his life after the motorcycle on which he was riding was allegedly struck by a car whose driver was shortly afterwards charged with several counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

A man from M’Chigeeng caused himself to be hospitalized when the ATV, of which he was supposed to have had control, overturned. He has also been charged with impaired driving.

Over this past weekend, the Ontario Provincial Police alone (not including the UCCMM Police or the Wikwemikong Tribal Police) responded to 90 occurrences, many of which involved drug and alcohol abuse.

On the other side of this continuum, a news story talks about the life-changing effect a group of young men have experienced after becoming part of a program, Teen Challenge, that has given them the strength to leave their self-destructive habits behind and to take control of their lives.

One young man in this group, from the Soo, had been a friend and fellow traveller on the same path as the unfortunate individual who was murdered over a year ago and whose body was Skil-sawed into pieces that were subsequently “hidden” here and there around Sault Ste. Marie in a ham-handed attempt by those young men and women, eventually charged with his murder, to hide their crime.

This nasty piece of work was found by Sault Ste. Marie police to have been a drug-related crime and the 27-year-old man who told the story explained that he knew everyone involved well and that, had he not set himself on the necessary path to leave this lifestyle behind, he could very well have also been involved in this terrible event.

As tough as this may sound, it’s all about choices, especially among young people. Members of the Teen Challenge group visiting Manitoulin had, each for his own personal reason, decided to abandon drugs and alcohol as a preoccupying lifestyle. In their own cases, they found the Teen Challenge route was helpful to them as they turned their lives around.

But in light of the number of lives altered we’ve witnessed just on Manitoulin in a very short period of time, it is very clear that many more people either need to be led, or pushed, into making choices that are not only less self-destroying but will also enhance the safety of the wider community.

Sadly, in spite of all of the good efforts of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), police, social agencies and school programs, impaired driving is on the rise on Manitoulin Island.

When we hear of the personal successes of the individuals who embraced the Teen Challenge method of gaining control over their lives, it holds out hope that nothing is impossible.

That, however, is small comfort to those individuals and families whose lives have been unalterably changed by the selfish choices others have made; those who have made the choice to drink (or use drugs) to the point that their judgment was impaired and then for their choice to “take a chance” behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

Perhaps it’s time for a more radical defensive approach, in the interest of public safety, where impaired drivers are concerned.

Just now, a conviction means a year’s driving suspension. Perhaps that should be advanced to five years or even 10. Perhaps, when a charge is laid for impaired driving, driving privilege should be suspended on the spot and on conviction, the five-year penalty could be reduced by the number of months between the time the charge was laid and the eventual conviction as “time served.”

If there was no conviction, it is likely that the public would smile on a “better safe than sorry” approach to these crimes.

In any event it is time to start policing ourselves, our family members and our neighbours, reading them the “riot act” as required if they consider themselves capable of operating a motor vehicle when we have even the slightest suspicion that they may not be capable of doing so.