Operation Red Nose prepares to relaunch in Manitoba after 2-year pandemic pause

Operation Red Nose is preparing to relaunch in nine Manitoba communities for the holiday season after a pandemic pause.

The holiday ride service, which will run from Nov. 25 until Dec. 31, picks people up and drives them home in their own vehicles, in an effort to prevent drunk driving.

“We help those who have a great evening of celebration with friends and family have a safe ride home, and when they wake up the next morning, their car is in the driveway,” said Steve Lang, president of Manta Swim Club, at a launch event Friday.

The swim club helped bring Operation Red Nose to Winnipeg in 1995.

The program — back this year after being put on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns — is now run by Manitoba Public Insurance and Safety Services Manitoba, with the help of volunteers, including those from Manta Swim Club.

Rides are free, but drivers do accept donations, which will go directly to the swim club.

When a person calls for a ride, a team of three volunteers meets them at their pickup location. One of the volunteers drives the patron’s car home, with an Operation Red Nose car following.

It will offer rides in the coming weeks every Friday and Saturday night, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Winnipeg’s Operation Red Nose will also provide service to communities that are within a 10-kilometre radius of the Perimeter Highway.

The service will also operate in Brandon, Flin Flon, The Pas, Thompson, Shilo, Portage la Prairie, Steinbach and St. Malo.

RCMP officer Sgt. Cathy Farrell says that her own family has been impacted drunk driving. (Darin Morash/CBC)

RCMP officer Sgt. Cathy Farrell, speaking at Friday’s launch, said her family has been impacted by drunk driving: her husband’s father was killed by an impaired driver.

She hopes the protocol of mandatory alcohol and drug screening will continue beyond the holiday season, and reminded the public that drivers stopped by a police officer can be asked to undergo alcohol screening, and not just at checkstops.

In 2018, the federal government made changes to impaired driving laws that allow police to demand a roadside breathalyzer test. Previously, officers were only permitted to test drivers if they had reasonable suspicion that a person was impaired.

The result of the test can’t be used in court as the basis of a Criminal Code charge, but can give police grounds to request a second test on an approved device. Results of the second test can be used in court.

Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen empathized with officers and emergency crews who respond to impaired driving collisions.

“[Officers] have to go to a loved one’s home and knock on the door and deliver the news, sometimes to a parent or a spouse … news they’ll never forget delivering, and that person who receives it will never forget receiving,” he said.

The ride service said it is still looking for volunteers for this holiday season.

Co-ordinator Sharra Hinton told CBC News last week that as of Nov. 7, she had 140 volunteers registered. 

She said on Friday that they have since received a couple dozen more applications, but ideally they need a total of 650 volunteers. 

People can sign up individually or in a team of three on the Operation Red Nose website. 

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