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Van Dongen launched crackdown that nabbed him

Just one year ago, Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety John van Dongen stood beside RCMP Inspector Norm Gaumont for a photo-op announcing the launch of an $800,000 video surveillance and awareness campaign to crack down on high-risk drivers.

Speed demons, in other words, like John van Dongen.

Van Dongen’s licence has been revoked for four months due to too many speeding tickets, leading to his resignation as Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety (though not as a B.C. Liberal candidate for re-election).

But back on April 29, 2008, van Dongen’s dangerous driving habits weren’t known to the public as he boasted of his B.C. Liberal government’s effort to “combat dangerous and impaired driving” and in so doing, “help save lives and prevent injuries on our roads.”

The Tyee thought it might be a good time to check in with Inspector Gaumont to see how the crackdown was doing one year later. Much success beyond nabbing the politician who helped launch it?

“We saw a significant decrease in speed-related deaths from last year,” Gaumont said, claiming last year’s statistics to be a historic low in the province. “We’ve never been that low. Ever.”

The program focused on speed in relation to intersections, with drivers speeding up at yellow or red lights. One of van Dongen’s own past tickets is reported to include failure to yield to a vehicle on a green light in Delta.

The RCMP also identified major corridors where speed was an issue and saturated the areas with overtime patrol.

When it comes to the program’s success, Gaumont says the results speak for themselves. Last year, British Columbia saw a total of 118 speed-related deaths, compared to 146 the year before and an average between 130 and 150 the years prior. A similar decline has been seen in the number of speed-related injuries, though at the highest peak last year the province still absorbed 550 in just one month.

How does Gaumont feel now, knowing that the politician claiming credit for launching the program was actually a prime offender?

We asked, but Gaumont declined to say.

As he joined van Dongen for the photo-op, did the RMCP officer know of the Solicitor General’s abysmal driving record that reportedly includes five more tickets in the last 10 years on top of those that lead to van Dongen’s license being revoked?

Checking van Dongen’s record before the event would have been “inappropriate,” Gaumont said. And he doesn’t plan to start.

“I wouldn’t be running politicians’ driving records. That’s not something we do. We don’t run people’s driving records unless we stop them for speeding,” he said. “Unless an individual is pulled over and at that time we check their driving record. But other than that we certainly don’t proactively start pulling people’s driving records.”

Gaumont said he didn’t believe the public would appreciate the police checking people’s backgrounds for what he described as “no good reason.”

Did Gaumont feel burned by the news that van Dongen has long been a menace behind the wheel?

No, the program was well intended and well conceived on van Dongen’s part, said Gaumont, who expressed sympathy for the perp.

“Is it unfortunate what happened to the Solicitor General? Absolutely,” said Gaumont.

One more question for RCMP Inspector Gaumont: Looking back on the day they shared a podium, was it perhaps inappropriate that van Dongen took credit on behalf of his government for helping to keep the streets safe?

“I’m not going to comment on that.”

Christine McLaren is a reporter for The Tyee.

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