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This article was published 25/4/2017 (1278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
She was spotted at the side of a Manitoba highway, her vehicle stuck in a snowbank, displaying all the classic symptoms of being drunk: slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, shaky on her feet and some erratic behaviour toward RCMP officers.
"Put me in jail," Carol Barkwell said at one point during the February 2015 incident just north of Gimli. "I love you guys. Tell me I'm not a bad person," the former school principal said a few moments later.
When she came to court months later, Barkwell offered up an alternative explanation for her actions, one her lawyer said should clear her of any wrongdoing. This wasn't a drunk driver, argued Mark Wasyliw. This was a woman suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder going through a major "disassociative" panic attack.
Barkwell's former psychologist was called as an expert witness by the defence, and talked about how she had treated Barkwell for PTSD in the 1990s. Dr. Lillian Esses told court a variety of stressers that day — including the fact Barkwell had attended a funeral and then got stuck at the side of the highway while driving home — may have caused a reaction that manifested itself once confronted by police.
"Dr. Esses testified that dissociation is a defence mechanism for persons suffering from PTSD and that extremely stressful, anxiety-producing situations can often produce altered states of mind where the mind retracts and effectively goes elsewhere as an avoidance-based coping mechanism," provincial court Judge Brian Corrin stated in his recent written decision on the case, which the Free Press has obtained.
However, there was also other evidence to consider. The two attending RCMP officers say Barkwell denied drinking any alcohol that day even though they could smell it on her breath.
Barkwell also refused their request to give a breath sample, they said. Police described her as argumentative and volatile, even when back at the station and given an opportunity to call a lawyer that ended with her throwing down the phone.
When she testified in her own defence at trial, Barkwell admitted to consuming a vodka and tonic and two vodka Caesars on the afternoon of the incident.
Barkwell told court her eyes were bloodshot because she'd been crying at the funeral. She claimed to have pulled over on the highway and became stuck in the snow while "trying to moisturize her contact lenses."
She denied having any memory of refusing the request for a breath demand from police and claimed officers were verbally and physically abusive, including grabbing her by the arm to remove her from the vehicle and leaving bruises. She submitted photos of her alleged injuries at the trial.
She said the officer's forceful behaviour "left her in a state of shock" that only made her PTSD symptoms worse.
Corrin rejected Barkwell's somewhat novel defence. He convicted her of impaired driving, saying the PTSD explanation simply doesn't hold water.
"In this case, the indicia of alcohol impairment were a smell of alcohol on the accused’s breath, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, an inability to walk and strange, anomalous responses to police questioning, suggestive of alcohol-related cognitive impairment… the 'I love you guys' remark," wrote Corrin. "There was also volatile emotionally unregulated behaviour such as the yelling and later the unexplained throwing down of the phone during the conversation with duty counsel."
Corrin said it's clear Barkwell's behaviour was odd even prior to her first contact with the police. He noted her psychologist hadn't seen her for nearly 18 years until this incident and just met briefly, twice, before giving an opinion that wasn't based on any specific forensic testing.
"For this reason she told the court that she was unable to provide a conclusive opinion respecting the cause of the accused’s bizarre behaviour," said Corrin.
Barkwell was acquitted of the refuse breath charge because Corrin found her Charter rights had been breached at the scene because officers didn't properly notify her of the charges she may be facing or explain her right to counsel before making the demand.
She will be sentenced on the impaired driving charge later this year.
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