This is the first in an occasional series profiling Canadian Change Makers, individuals who are affecting change in their neighbourhoods, provinces, across the country or around the globe.
On June 12, 2015, 20-year-old CEGEP student Tina Adams went out for a jog with a friend on the quiet residential streets near her home in Hudson, Quebec, a small predominantly English-speaking community off the western tip of the island of Montreal. What happened shortly after that changed her life forever.
Fast-forward to three-and-a-half years later, on Friday, January 9, 2019, with a distinctive limp and visible scars, Adams walked into a courtroom in Valleyfield, Quebec, and, with the courage that she has learned to harness to regain some sense of normalcy in her life, stood in front of a judge and boldly made a pitch. What happens next could change how the justice system deals with convicted drunk drivers.
Adams, who is now 24 years old, made the request based on her need to find some good to come out of what has happened. She is seeking change. She is hoping her efforts will make a difference. And she is, admittedly, taking a step into the unknown.
The request Adams made to Quebec Court Judge Bernard St-Arnaud had nothing to do with the agreed-to sentencing recommendation that the prosecutor and defence lawyers had put forward in the case against Jordan Xavier Taylor, the man who, with a blood alcohol level of 1.33, well above the legal limit of 0.08, had plowed her down with his car, taking down a utility pole while doing it and pinning a severely injured Adams under the wires. She simply asked that once he is done with his jail time that he be mandated by the court to accompany her to public speaking engagements in schools to talk to students about the real effects of drinking and driving. She wants others to see not only the devastating consequences she has had to suffer as the result of the poor judgment exhibited by Taylor, who decided to get behind the wheel of a car after having too much to drink. She wants people to hear how that same poor judgment has affected Taylor, a person who could have availed himself of another option that day.
Her request to the court was as unexpected as it was unprecedented. And it gave the judge pause.
In fact, St-Arnaud postponed deciding on Taylor’s punishment. He rescheduled the sentencing to January 29.
“I believe this can make a difference,” Adams said in a telephone interview from her home, referring to the request she made to the judge. "I want to take something bad and make something good."
No one knew she was going to ask the judge for the unusual demand -- not the prosecutor, nor her father, who was in the courtroom with her. After briefly consulting with his lawyer, Taylor told the judge that he would agree to the request.
When they walked into the hearing that day, Adams said the prosecutor had explained to her an agreement had been reached with the defence. Taylor had pleaded guilty to two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. But both sides were going to recommend an eight-month sentence followed by one year of probation. And Taylor would not be allowed to have a driver’s licence for 15 months.
During the proceedings, Adams offered a victim impact statement that included an eight-minute video that detailed the extent of the injuries she had suffered --?which included a traumatic brain injury, a cracked skull, a fractured spine, two punctured lungs, fractured ribs, a crushed pelvis and right hip, torn ligaments and burns due to electricity wires that caused nerve damage.
She also described her lengthy road to recovery, which she continues to navigate. She has had 19 surgeries, and has had to undergo intensive physiotherapy to relearn how to walk and how to go up and down stairs. At the time of the accident she was in the second year of the police technology program at nearby John Abbott College, planning to become a police officer. With that dream now taken away from her, her life since the accident revolves around hospital stays, doctor’s visits, physiotherapy sessions, visits to a psychologist, intense physical training, and constant and chronic pain that will always be part of her life.
The judge, she said, seemed moved.
"He did not remove his eyes off the video the whole time,” Adams said. “I saw that he had a lot of empathy for me."
Asked for her reaction to the judge delaying his sentencing, she said: "I think it was delayed because he wasn't sure of the sentencing."
She is pleased that extra consideration will be given.
But despite her request, she does want to see Taylor do prison time, and she is quick to point out that eight months behind bars is not enough. She would like him to be sentenced to “at least half of what I lost so far, so one-and-a-half years.”
:He knew what he was doing. He knew he was driving that day, even though people tried to stop him,” she said. "He changed my life. He ruined it."
But whatever the sentence, she will wait and, hopefully, eventually join Taylor to speak to students about the serious implications of drinking and driving.
Throughout the latter stages of her recovery, Adams has visited schools to talk to teenagers and young adults. She visited her old high school. It is the same one Taylor graduated from. And she is scheduled to return to speak there again in February.
Her message is simple: If you are planning to drink, you should organize rides before heading out.
The consequences of failing to do that, she illustrates, are devastating.
"We all think that it can’t happen to us. I never thought this would happen to me."
Now, Adams has had to rethink her whole life. A career as a police officer is now not possible because she cannot meet the physical requirements. She may never be able to have a child. She might need to have another hip replacement. She lives with constant chronic pain.
Yet, she tries not to dwell on it.
"I live in the present,"?she said, explaining that contemplating the future is difficult. "When I think of the future, I get overwhelmed."
But she is hopeful. She hopes she can affect change. She hopes to help?society rethink how it views drunk driving. It is not something that simply carries a punishment. She wants to eliminate it as an option in drivers' minds.
She will be back in court on January 29 to hear the judge’s decision on sentencing.
Image: Tina Adams/Facebook
Brenda O'Farrell is editor-in-chief of rabble.ca.
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