Just days after the anniversary of Francis Pesa’s death at the hands of an impaired driver, his mother, Grace Pesa, is bracing herself for another dreaded milestone: the release of the man convicted in his death.
This month, Kulwinder Singh Chohan will complete his three-year sentence for impaired driving causing death, after serving just five months behind bars.
“Francis’s killer is free,” Pesa told reporters gathered Tuesday in Calgary for a news conference calling for reforms to impaired-driving laws.
“I’m not a vindictive person, (but) what I have been working on and will continue to work on until I die is that this crime should at least have a fitting sentence across Canada.”
Pesa’s son had been driving with his girlfriend on New Year’s Day 2014 to pick up food for his family when a Dodge Ram truck, driven by Chohan, crossed the centre line and struck their vehicle.
The crash was chaotic: Chohan had side-swiped a Mazda before crashing into Pesa’s vehicle, then a Buick Enclave hit Chohan’s truck.
Later in court, Pesa’s family would learn that Chohan’s blood-alcohol level was well over the legal limit at the time of the crash, and that investigators found a bottle of Crown Royal in the passenger side of his truck.
Francis spent the next five days in the intensive-care unit and underwent four operations before he died.
Now, four years later, as Chohan concludes his sentence, Francis’s family have joined two Tory members of parliament in calling on the government to strengthen impaired-driving penalties.
“The fact that Chohan would receive a sentence like three years with only five months behind bars is an outrage,” said St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper. “It’s an outrage because it clearly does not match the seriousness and the gravity of the crime committed.”
Cooper, the deputy shadow minister for Justice, tried unsuccessfully last fall to introduce an amendment to Bill C-46 — part of the government’s legal marijuana legislation package — that would see a mandatory five-year sentence introduced for impaired driving causing death.
“It doesn’t take away discretion of judges to fashion an appropriate sentence,” Cooper said.
“But when you make the conscious decision to drink and drive and take away the life of another human being, (it’s) not unreasonable in my view to expect a minimum of a five- or six-year minimum sentence in those cases.”
Cooper and Calgary-Confederation MP Len Webber are now hoping amendments to Bill C-46 that include mandatory minimums will be introduced at the Senate level.
The federal Liberals have previously looked at eliminating mandatory sentences wherever possible, based on evidence that they contribute to backlogs in the courts.
But advocates of the mandatory minimums say such sentences are appropriate for serious crimes — and the Pesa family hope the government can be convinced that impaired driving causing death is a crime that warrants minimum sentences.
“It’s not about just sentencing, that’s not the bottom line. The bottom line is being able to change the perception so that this is a crime and people don’t see this as an accident (or) chance,” said Hervin Pesa, Francis’s older brother.
“This is something that people wilfully commit and participate in on a daily basis.”