After his impaired driving conviction, Dawson City resident William spent more than three years without a driver’s licence — not because he didn’t want it back, or because he didn’t clean up his act, but because he lacked the means to get to Whitehorse.
Since December 2012, people who have their driver’s licences suspended following an impaired driving conviction must complete the free Information and Motivation for Positive Action and Choices Today program — better known as IMPACT — before they can apply to the Yukon Driver Control Board to have their licenses reinstated.
However, the program is only offered in Whitehorse and is spaced out over five weeks, posing a challenge for people living in the communities who need to take it.
“I had retired and I didn’t have the capital to go down four times a month, and it was only two hours a night or whatever,” said William, who asked that his last name not be published. He added that he had to turn down several work opportunities because having a driver’s licence was a requirement for the jobs.
But after more than three years of being unable to legally drive anywhere, William is finally on track to get his licence back in September after completing IMPACT during a pilot project held in Dawson last month.
Fourteen people (including William) participated in the IMPACT pilot in Dawson in June, with some of the participants travelling from Mayo and Pelly Crossing to take the course. The pilot came after a year of discussions between Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Yukon government about having IMPACT offered locally.
Mental wellness and substance use counsellor Corry Rusnak was among the facilitators who travelled from Whitehorse to Dawson to run the pilot. Although the contents of the program were the same, Rusnak said the pilot was run on a much shorter timeline — just two weeks, instead of over a month.
“We just had to do some quick facilitation as compared to normal, and the participants were required to do things with shorter timelines,” she said. “For example, there’s homework in every class that we do, so normally, in Whitehorse, the participants would have one week to finish their work, versus in Dawson, they just had … one to two nights to finish their homework.”
The tighter timeline was a challenge for facilitators when it came to marking and writing up reports on the participants, Rusnak said, but the program otherwise ran smoothly.
She added that she’s aware of the desire to have IMPACT offered outside of Whitehorse.
“Oftentimes when participants come through the Whitehorse program, they will make comments about how it would be easier for them if it was run in their community,” she said.
In an interview July 3, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in justice coordinator George Filipovic said the pilot was a “tremendous success.” (Filipovic has since left the position.)
“The (participants) I heard from were really ecstatic and it was actually quite rewarding, after it was all over, to hear from them,” he said.
“They went out of their way to text me or call me or anything to say how pleased they were and how happy they were that it took place in Dawson, (that) they had a chance to graduate that course.”
In his role, Filipovic said he’s seen a huge demand for having IMPACT offered in the communities, describing impaired driving as “pretty much an epidemic in Yukon.” While preventing drunk driving is ideal, Filiopvic said he thinks it doesn’t do anyone any favours to sideline people who have their licences taken away due to convictions.
“People need to have a chance to learn from their mistakes, and this program, the IMPACT program, offers a tremendous opportunity for that,” Filipovic said.
“The people who texted me not only thanked me for the chance to have this course in Dawson but also mentioned that they’re unlikely to do it again because they really learned how much of an impact drinking and driving can have. And also, another point is, these people can’t get good-paying jobs unless they have a licence a lot of the time, so it kind of helps nobody to keep them on the sidelines. It’s everybody’s best interest, it’s not just theirs, to take steps to get them back on the road and back on the road safety.”
While it’s too early to say whether IMPACT will be offered in Dawson again, Filipovic said, based on the demand and 100 per cent success rate of the participants, he doesn’t see why it wouldn’t be.
“Until that problem (of impaired driving) is gone, it would definitely be a benefit to everybody to have that offered in the communities and Dawson seems like a good place for that,” he said. “I don’t think there was any downside to it.”
William, who said he’s “clean and sober” now and a supporter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, agreed.
“I think it was an excellent course,” he said. “I learned a great deal.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org