A judge has ruled that a chronic drunk driver who killed four people will not be jailed indefinitely as a dangerous offender.
Raymond Charles Yellowknee, 36, had the potential to be the first man in Canada to be declared a dangerous offender because of his driving record.
Yet Provincial Court Judge Ernie Walter ruled Thursday Yellowknee will not face life in prison despite his many drunk-driving offences.
Instead, Walter declared him as a long-term offender and sentenced him to 20.5 years in prison minus time already served.
"You ruined the lives of many people as a result of your criminal acts," he said.
Walter decided on the long-term offender status even though he said Yellowknee met the requirements of a dangerous offender, saying he believes the defendant may have a chance to reform.
"The sentence you received this day is intended to give you a chance to change your ways," he said. "You must make it happen."
As a long-term offender, Yellowknee must undergo therapy while in prison and he is never allowed to drive a vehicle again.
He will likely also face strict conditions for 10 years after he is released from prison.
Yellowknee, 36, has three impaired driving convictions. In the most recent case, he was convicted after a high speed police chase near Slave Lake in 2006 ended up in a crash that killed a woman and her three daughters.
Family of victims react to the ruling
Misty Chalifoux, 28, was killed along with nine-year-old Trista, six-year-old Larissa and her 13-year-old stepdaughter Michelle Lisk.
The family from the Driftpile Cree Nation was headed to Slave Lake to shop when a truck being pursued by police slammed head-on into their car.
The truck has been reported stolen just minutes before the crash. Police said they were trying to pull it over when the suspect lost control and crossed the centre line.
According to court documents, Yellowknee's blood alcohol level was .22 that night, almost three times the legal limit of .08.
Outside of the courtroom, the family of some of the victims paused briefly to speak to media.
Frank Carifelle, father of Misty Chalifoux, said he saw this case as an opportunity to set precedence for all people convicted of drunk driving.
"The law had a chance to put some teeth into it and they didn't," he said. "I was disappointed. I was deeply disappointed and deeply hurt."
Her mother Muriel Carifelle said her daughter is still inspiring others to do good.
"She was a special person, like I thank God for the years that we had her," she said.
Despite the seriousness of the offences, legal experts were skeptical the Crown would be successful in getting the dangerous offender designation for drinking and driving.
One University of Alberta professor told CTV in 2007 that it would be hard to achieve a dangerous driving designation because Yellowknee didn't have the intention of hurting anyone.
Sanjeev Anand, a University of Alberta law professor, said the dangerous offender designation is usually reserved for the "worst of the worst" type of criminals.
Throughout Yellowknee's trials, the court heard about his history of violence while in custody. He allegedly assaulted inmates and had weapons in his cell.
The dangerous offender designation is the most severe sentence that can be imposed and it is usually reserved for extreme sexual misconduct or for someone with a history of violence.
Crown prosecutor Jonathan Hak said he still considers the ruling a win.
This is the first time such a decision has been handed down in Alberta and the second time in Canada.
"This clearly sends a message to would-be offenders but also to other people involved in the justice system that these types of designations are within the realm of possibility," he said.
Yellowknee's lawyer said her client does feel remorse for his actions.
"(Of) course it's a little bit longer than we had hoped for but Mr. Yellowknee does accept responsibility for his actions, he knew he needed to be punished," Laurie Wood said.
With the time already served, Yellowknee has about 16 years left to serve.