Author faces jail time for three offences of drunk driving

The Crown wants a renowned Kamloops author found driving drunk three different times in as many weeks jailed for 11 months.

Richard Gilkinson, 55, also known as Richard Wagamese, was in provincial court Monday to be sentenced, after pleading guilty to two instances of impaired driving in Kamloops earlier in the year. He also waived in a third impaired driving charge from Calgary and pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to appear in court.

Prosecutor Chris Balison told the judge that police were called the first time on March 1, after Wagamese crashed his truck just past 11 a.m. on the frontage road near the fire hall in Valleyview. Tests later pegged his blood-alcohol limit at .223, nearly three times the legal limit.

Five days later, Wagamese was found sitting incoherently in the cab of his truck in the ditch off of Paul Lake Road. Police found several opened bottles of liquor or coolers inside the cab. His blood-alcohol level was measured at .300.

Then, in Calgary March 15, officers found him in his truck, clearly intoxicated. His blood-alcohol level topped .315.

Balison noted Wagamese has a criminal history with more than 50 convictions dating back to the 1970s, including three other alcohol-related driving convictions.

The prosecutor acknowledged Wagamese is a respected and well-known author, not unlike Saskatchewan First Nations artist Dale Stonechild, who is known throughout Canada for his artwork. Many of Stonechild's pieces can be found in museums, galleries and private collections across the country.

And both Stonechild and Wagamese have suffered as a result of Canada's residential school system, Balison said, as he drew parallels between the two cases.

Stonechild pleaded guilty in July 2010 to driving with a blood-alcohol level over .08 and was jailed 18 months, the prosecutor said, reiterating his call for jail for Wagamese.

"Every drinking driver is a potential killer," Balison said, quoting from a different court judgment.

Defence lawyer Michelle Stanford told the court her client has no memory of the events, not because of the drinking but because of the nature of the psychological damage he suffered as a child.

Wagamese has periods of disassociation, she noted, caused by "trigger events" that arise out of his past. When in these states, he becomes a different person. In the past, Wagamese has all but vanished from his family when his post-traumatic stress triggers kick in, Stanford said. He has been found later living on the streets.

But his life has changed since these latest incidents, she said. He has received specialized counselling that has enabled him to identify the triggers before they set him on destructive paths.

"He is now able to recognize when triggering events are present so he does not enter that disassociative state. He now has a handle on the addiction to alcohol. He has been clean for 18 months now," she said.

Stanford asked the court to consider a conditional sentence instead of jail, noting prison will do nothing for Wagamese while preventing him from helping others.

She told the court Wagamese has been working hard to make amends for his actions 18 months ago, by talking to others in similar positions. His ongoing writing and frequent talks, school visits and mentoring has a profound impact on many.

"The benefits of him being out of jail outweigh the benefit a jail sentence would have," Stanford said. "He has a gift. Someone who can heal others often has been traumatized themselves.

"While he feels he has let everyone down, he has risen as a role model in this regard as well."

Wagamese told the court about his past. His family was torn apart by the residential school system. He ended up in foster care and then with an adoptive family, suffering much physical abuse along the way.

"Alcohol could numb me to all the things that arose in me. When they arose, I just drank more and more," he said.

Judge Stella Frame reserved her decision on whether to jail Wagamese or let him serve his sentence in the community. A date for the continuation of the sentence hearing will be set Thursday.

Wagamese has been a writer and journalist since 1979. He has written several novels, including his critically acclaimed first novel Keeper'n Me.

Wagamese also hosted a CFJC-TV show called One Native Life and was awarded an honourary doctorate by Thompson Rivers University in 2010. He lives at Pinantan Lake.

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