For more than a decade, Burnaby’s George Sojka has been trying to honour the memory of his dead sister by petitioning the government to change the law when it comes to obtaining a warrant to get a blood sample.
He finally got his wish.
But it wasn’t easy. Sojka needed the help of outgoing Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart to get the law changed and it took more than 10 years and meant petitioning two different federal governments.
On June 21, Helen’s Law – added as part of the larger Bill C-46 – received royal assent, extending the timeframe to obtain a warrant to get a blood sample from four to 8 hours.
Sojka was relieved that it finally got done.
“Her life, her death is now not all in vain or pointless,” Sojka told the NOW in an email. “She deserved to have something positive from out of this tragedy. This long-overdue amendment is 'the positive outcome'.”
Sojka’s sister, Burnaby’s Helen Sonja Francis, died in a car accident on Feb. 28, 2005, after the car she was in crashed near Houston, B.C. Helen worked as a local nurse and left two young children behind.
The driver, an ex-boyfriend, was allegedly impaired at the time. The courts, however, deemed the incriminating evidence inadmissible because the warrant to obtain a blood sample was faulty. It was granted 13 minutes after the Criminal Code’s four-hour deadline. (In order for investigators to get a blood sample, a warrant must be obtained within four hours after an accident occurs.)
Sojka has since been advocating to get the warrant deadline extended.
Stewart presented Helen’s Law in the House of Commons a number of times, but it had never passed.
Then, in 2017, federal Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould notified Sojka that his amendment had been grouped in with Bill C-46, a host of Criminal Code amendments related to impaired driving. (Bill C-46 will also allow police to take a roadside breath sample without evidence that the driver is under the influence.)
“I took on this long, drawn-out and challenging mission inspired by (former federal NDP Leader) Jack Layton's words as spoken in his final speech, ‘Don't let them tell you that it can't be done,’” Sojka said.
Sojka gave heartfelt credit to Stewart, who has resigned as an MP to run for mayor of Vancouver, and his office staff.
“Without you all,” Sojka wrote, “my road to this finish line may have taken much longer if not been impossible to achieve. Thank you Mr. Stewart for having a vision of what was to be done.”
In a Facebook post about the passing of Helen’s Law, Stewart wrote: “George was the very first constituent with whom I had the pleasure to meet back in 2011 when I was first elected MP for Burnaby-Douglas and my first speech in Parliament was about Sonia and George's story … I want to thank George for his perseverance.”
- With files from Tereza Verenca