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Family of Montreal woman killed by drunk driver demands Quebec lower legal limit

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The family of a young woman killed by a drunk driver is pushing the Quebec government to tighten its rules around impaired driving.

"This is a loss that nobody can imagine," Elizabeth Rivera told CTV News. "Nobody should experience [it]."

Rivera lost her daughter, Jessica Sarli-Rivera, in 2017 when the car she was in, driven by a drunk driver, was involved in a collision.

The man who killed her had 2.08 millilitres of alcohol in his blood -- more than twice what is allowed.

Currently in Quebec, the legal limit is 0.08, unlike most other provinces at 0.05.

"That means that if somebody stopped is under the influence, and they're at 0.05, we will remove the car, they will remove the licence and they will be a fine to pay," explains Rivera. "We don't understand why we are the only province in Canada who doesn't have to set sanctions."

The family is now petitioning to have Quebec's legal limit reduced to match the country's other provinces.

"We started in 2022 with Carlos Leitao, and he didn't go through. So, this time, the MNA Monsef Derraji, he accepted to pass the petition again," Rivera said. "We met in person with [Transport Minister] Madame Guilbeault, and her answer was that, 'it's not at this moment. We're not doing anything now.'"

Furthermore, Quebec Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault rejected a call from Coroner Yvon Garneau last October to reduce the province's blood alcohol limit.

He made the recommendation following the October 2021 death of Stéphanie Houle, 46, who was a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver.

"A review of the blood alcohol limit allowed while driving is not envisaged by our government," reads a statement from Guilbault's office.

The driver who killed Sarli-Rivera was eventually found guilty.

He admitted to having a drinking problem and served time in prison for his crime.

"If he said that he had problems drinking, I'm sure it's not the first time he did that," said Rivera. "Unfortunately, this had to happen to us, and I feel sorry for him. I feel sorry that we all think this will never happen to us."

After her daughter's death, Rivera joined Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and is now president of the Montreal chapter.

"Jessica was a very kind person. She was caring. She was always making sure that everyone was OK," remembers Rivera. "She had a beautiful smile and a contagious laugh that I still hear. She was an amazing person, and she didn't deserve this. This happened to her at 26 years old, and what hurts me the most is everything that she's missing."

With the holidays almost upon us, she says MADD Canada is launching its annual Project Red Ribbon awareness campaign, which stresses the importance of driving safely.

Project Red Ribbon runs until the end of February.

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