Drunk driving hit list
By James Pugsley
An new initiative to fight drinking and driving which involves publishing the names of those charged with impaired driving in community newspapers may have good intentions, but is receiving mixed reviews from parties involved.
The Ontario Provincial Police department in Port Credit announced last week they will prepare a weekly list of names of anyone in the region charged with impaired driving, refusing to take a breathalyser test or driving with more than the legal limit of alcohol in their system. The editors of The Mississauga News and The Brampton Guardian, both published by Metroland Publishing, decided they will publish the names in their papers each week.
"The province has spent millions trying to educate [on impaired driving] and nothing is working," said Const. Brian Hackett of the Port Credit OPP. He added if publishing the names works as a deterrent over the festive season, the OPP will consider doing it all year.
Robin Inscoe, editor of the The Guardian said, "If a person can't look out for him or herself, then this is a way for friends and neighbours [who have seen the charged person's name] to do it for them."
Steve Pecar, managing editor of The Mississauga News, said he views the project as part of the paper's responsibility. If people are drinking and driving in the community than the community should be doing something about it, he said. "The police say this will be a deterrent, so we bought into it."
Both editors approximate between five and 15 names will be published each week, although Inscoe said The Guardian will only publish names of Brampton citizens. The two papers combined have a circulation of approximately 200,000. Pecar said he wouldn't be surprised if more Metroland community papers in the Toronto area also consider the idea in the future.
Although there were mild discussions about the initiative at The Toronto Sun, managing editor Mike Strobel said there is little chance such a list would reach the paper. "A lot of serious crimes are not getting published, so why should it be done for this case?" he said. "If the OPP present us with a proposal, that's good but I don't think we'll play ball."
The initiative is not, however, being persued in the London area. "We have always been willing to release the information to the media but it's up to them how they want to use it," said Sgt. Doug Babbitt of the OPP Western Region Headquarters.
"If community newspapers feel they are doing the community a service I think they have been misguided," said Rob Paynter, managing editor of The London Free Press. He added listing names does not deter people from drinking and driving. "We are not into the humiliating game."
David Spencer, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Western, said he feels the process of humiliating people in the paper is an improper use of the media.
"The bottom line is the newspaper industry should not be adjunct to a justice problem," he said. He added there is too much potential to make mistakes when publishing a list of names especially in large papers. "How many Paul Davenports are there that could be mistaken for Western's [president]?"
Spencer paralleled the name publishing with other methods of public embarrassment used to punish people in the past. "It's like putting someone in town square and giving them a good stoning."