West Island family calls for tougher drinking and driving laws five years after daughter's death

Five years after their daughter was killed, a family from Montreal's West Island is calling for tougher drinking and driving laws.

Antoine Bittar and Elizabeth Rivera's faces still light up when they talk about their daughter Jessica.

"She used to walk in saying 'hola familia' with a big smile," Bittar recalled. "Suddenly, the room is totally different with just her voice and her presence."

"Her kind words, her genuine hugs, the way she would call in the middle of the day just to say hi," added Rivera. "We miss those happy times."

Jessica Sarli-Rivera was 26 years old when she was killed in a drunk driving crash on March 20, 2017. She was a passenger in a car that slammed into a lamppost on the westbound service road for Highway 20.

Her family is advocating for more penalties for drinking and driving. Currently, if a driver's blood-alcohol level is 0.08 or above, they can be arrested and charged under the Criminal Code. The family wants to see fines for drivers who test between 0.05 and 0.08, a measure already in place in other provinces, including Ontario. The regulation was floated by Quebec over a decade ago but never implemented.

"We realized that if in 2010 it was in place, maybe our daughter would be alive," said Bittar.

They've started a petition to be presented at the National Assembly by Liberal MNA Carlos Leitao. "It gives police forces a little more flexibility for someone who is driving under the influence but with less than 0.08," he said.

According to provincial police, 14 per cent of all fatal vehicle accidents in 2020 were caused by impaired driving. That includes by alcohol, drugs or fatigue.  

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