Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation’s justice coordinator is pushing for a program that must be completed by people convicted of drunk driving before they can get their licenses back to be brought to Dawson City.
Information and Motivation for Positive Action and Choices Today — better known as IMPACT — is a free program consisting of four classes and one evaluation session spaced out over five weeks. As of December 2012, people who have their driver’s licenses suspended following an impaired driving charge must successfully complete IMPACT before they can apply to the Yukon Driver Control Board to have their licenses reinstated.
The program, however, is currently only offered in Whitehorse, which Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s justice coordinator George Filipovic says poses a problem for people living in the communities who need to take it.
“I think it’s a really high barrier for people living in the communities…. Not only taking time off your job, which is already one expense, but then you have to pay to travel to Whitehorse, you have to pay, usually, to stay at a hotel, pay for food that’s outside your house and you have to do that four different weeks, four weeks in a row,” he said, adding that the problem is compounded for single parents who also have to make child care arrangements.
“I think, from our perspective, punishment needs to be equitable, and it’s fundamentally unfair to offer many courtesies to Whitehorse residents in regards to this program — for example, offering it after hours so (participants) don’t have to take time off work and offering it for free — while then, asking of Dawson residents to take massive amounts of time away from their work and their families and pay massive amounts of expense to get to Whitehorse. There needs to be more equity, from our perspective, in regards to these justice outcomes.”
Filipovic said that Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in has been in talks with the Yukon government for about a year now to have IMPACT hosted in Dawson. Having it hosted locally would not only benefit Dawson residents who need to take the program, Filipovic said, but also residents from nearby communities.
As part of the effort, Filipovic has been gauging what interest exists in having IMPACT hosted in Dawson by posting to local Facebook groups. He said the response has been enthusiastic, particularly from Mayo.
“Facebook is a public platform but people were so excited, I guess, by the prospect of it being offered in Dawson that they were tagging each other and making comments…. On top of the people who publicly responded, there was a few people who also sent me a private message saying that they would love to have it offered in Dawson,” he said.
He added that in his role as justice coordinator, he’s also had several clients tell him they want IMPACT offered closer to home, including one “elderly gentleman” who’s been waiting to take the course for about three years and hasn’t been able to work because he doesn’t have a license.
“On the current dockets, I would say, for the last six months to a year, about half to two-thirds of the people charged are facing some kind of impaired driving offence in Dawson, so my assumption is that quite a few people would benefit from this course in Dawson,” Filipovic said.
In an interview April 27, Mary Vanstone, the director of mental wellness and substance use services with the Department of Health and Social Services, said that there are currently plans to bring a “trial” of IMPACT to Dawson. Those plans are still in their early stages, Vanstone said, but she expects everything to be ready “sometime before the end of summer.”
The trial would involve qualified counsellors from Whitehorse travelling up to Dawson, Vanstone said, and having local counsellors shadow them as they lead the program.
The long-term goal, Vanstone said, is to bring IMPACT to all four of the mental wellness and substance use services hubs around the territory, using the Dawson trial as a model for how to deliver the training and programming.
“What we want to do is ensure we’ve trained staff to the same standard of the staff that are here in Whitehorse and that we’re providing the same quality of service,” she said. “(We want to ensure IMPACT is) going to be consistent throughout the territory in the hubs.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org