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Life sentence in fatal impaired accident 'small victory' for Quebec family

Sep 11, 2009

by Lisa Rea

Canadian Roger Walsh was convicted and given a life sentence for the killing of Anee Khudaverian while driving drunk in October 2008 in Quebec. Walsh's sentence is noteworthy since this is the stiffest sentence ever handed down by the Crown in the case of a drunk driving death. Walsh had 18 additional convictions on his record for "impaired driving" before the death of this victim. In this news story, along with a television news clip interviewing the victim's mother and sister, we learn that Ms. Khudaverian was wheelchair bound and walking her down on a rural road when she was killed by Walsh.

Complicating the story, especially if you are not Canadian, is the issue of the categorization of offenders as "dangerous offenders". Currently under Canadian law convicted drunk drivers are not listed as "dangerous offenders", since that category is kept for those violent offenders considered the most heinous. That category of offender is considered beyond rehabilitation. The sentencing of Walsh to a life sentence was precedent setting although some, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the victim's family, were lobbying for drunk drivers like Walsh to be added to the "dangerous offender" statute.

Where does restorative justice fit in here? The first press story I read on this case, a wire story picked up by the New York Times , provided very little information on the victim's family and the pain they suffered from the death of their daughter. That led me to ask, my usual question after violent crime: what about the victims?  But the press articles appearing throughout Canada do interview the victim's family members and get theirreaction to the sentence. A justice system based on restorative justice would seek to repair or restore the victim or victim's family as much as possible. For the offender restorative justice would require accountability for his actions after violent (or nonviolent) crime. Accountability in the offender could translate into many actions. Restitution, for one.  

After any violent death repairing the harm, or restoring the victim or her family as much as possible, is a challenge. But it is not impossible. Would the victim's family ever want to meet with the offender? Has that been suggested to the family? Perhaps it is too early, since the death occurred in 2008, but maybe not. I have seen victims, and their families, decide quite quickly that they wanted contact with the offenders.

Some victims wait. Some victims choose not to meet. But I believe they should have that option. Why?  I am convinced that the family of Anee Khudaverian have questions they would ask Roger Walsh. The answers they seek could only be provided by the offender. An admission of guilt and remorse expressed directly to the victim's family has a powerful effect. No, it cannot bring back their daughter but it can help to heal the pain of this tragedy. This process also has a powerful effect on the offender. 

Since this conviction was Walsh's 19th impaired driving conviction, an astounding number, the question is could this have been avoided? I'm sure we cannot answer that. But we can ask whether Walsh might have  been reached, and his actions affected, had he been exposed to restorative justice programming for these previous convictions. That could have included meeting real victims of crimes. Their personal stories would have put a human face to violent crime, something that offenders and ex-offenders often do not see. In addition, a criminal justice system based on restorative justice would have strongly supported alcohol or drug treatment. Apparently Walsh did receive some kind of alcohol treatment but to no avail. Seems many actions were taken to attempt to stop him from driving while drinking, or driving at all. But it did not stop Walsh that day. 

Was this a fair and just sentence? Walsh received a life sentence but he will be eligible for parole in seven years. I cannot answer that but I know one thing for sure those of us who support restorative justice are fully committed to public safety as much as any public official demanding so called "tough on crime" remedies. We do not want to see Walsh or any other inmate commit another crime. The use of restorative justice is an investment in increased public safety while acknowledging the great harm crime has on victims and communities. For the Khudaverian family, perhaps there is healing that still can come. Perhaps that healing can come through experiencing restorative justice. If Walsh does serve the rest of his natural life in prison he still should be eligible to participate in a restorative justice meeting. Walsh still could take full responsibility for his actions, even behind bars.  

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Susan Swope
Susan Swope says:
Sep 16, 2009 12:46 AM

I think the sentence was appropriate. I hope they will think carefully before giving this man parole. He has not been able to control himself to either stop drinking or avoid driving while impaired. It is apparent that someone else has to ensure that he stays off the road. It's unfortunate that prison seems the only way to accomplish that, but it may be and it may be he should stay in prison for life to ensure he doesn't kill someone else while driving drunk. <br /> <br />That said, I agree that the best opportunity for healing for the family of the victim would be the opportunity to meet Mr. Walsh face to face and confront him with the pain he has inflicted. Seeing and understanding that pain is probably also Mr. Walsh's best opportunity to finally come to grips with his drinking and egregious disregard for the rights of others. I hope that this happens at some point, for the sakes of all involved.

Linda Mitchell
Linda Mitchell says:
Sep 26, 2009 01:27 PM

Roger Walsch was driving drunk-AGAIN-with 19 impaired driving convictions, his Life sentence was just because he will be eligible for parole in seven years. <br />I have a nephew who had no prior drunk driving convictions, as a matter of fact, no convictions. He was 16 years old and was driving a car with 2 passengers with him. He hit a pedestrian which resulted in loss of life. He left the scene of the accident and when the pedestrian died, he turned himself in to the police. He was charged as an adult, tried and sentenced as for 1st degree murder. He received a Life Imprisonment sentence and has been in prison for the past 18 years. He is now 34 years old. This is in Colorado, USA. Now, do you think that is a fair sentence?

Lisa Rea
Lisa Rea says:
Sep 28, 2009 05:50 PM

Hello, Linda. Thank you for your comment and question. Do you think it is a fair sentence? <br />I know quite a few people in Colorado who are concerned about juveniles given life without parole sentences. Was your nephew given a life without parole sentence? <br /> <br />The bottom line is in the U.S. sentences for violent crime vary dramatically from state to state. Add the federal prison system and sentencing inconsistencies there and you have a patchwork of laws in this country. U.S. <br />Senator James Webb has proposed a commission that will take a look at the criminal justice system in this country. This is sorely needed. <br /> <br />From a restorative justice perspective I always think of the victim of crime. In the case of your nephew how could he have been held accountable for his actions after the death of the victim in his case? How could there be some kind of healing in this case in the lives of the family members who live on who also were severely injured by this crime? Perhaps a restorative justice dialogue, or victim offender dialogue, could be useful even now in this case. Has this option been offered to the victim's family? Is your nephew amenable? <br /> <br />No easy answers here, of course. I hope that there is some relief that comes that allows healing in the lives of all injured by this crime, including your own. <br /> <br />Lisa Rea

Gerald says:
Jun 05, 2010 02:52 PM

<br />Who decides what is justice? I suspect that the Families affected by these crimes would be better placed to decide what sentences are meted out to those who repeatedly drink drive with no regard for others until they kill innocent people. It is very easy to speak of being to harsh until this is visited on you. Compassion is not an obligation or duty. It is an understanding of what heals you. Anger and sadness are emotions we are overwhelmed with at loss. Justice helps the recovery process. Acknowledgment that a wrong has been done and recognised by a society that cares.

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