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Warning issued about convicted drunk driver

Warning issued about convicted drunk driverMichael Cooper, 55, is shown in a police handout photo. Halifax police are warning all Nova Scotia residents about Cooper, a man who is deemed a high risk to re-offend after serving a seven-year sentence for impaired driving causing death. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Halifax Regional Police

HALIFAX - Halifax police have taken the unusual step of warning all Nova Scotia residents about a man deemed a high risk to re-offend after serving a seven-year sentence for impaired driving causing the deaths of two young people from Cape Breton.

After Michael Gerard Cooper's conviction in 2007, the Parole Board of Canada said he told them he would likely continue drinking and driving, which prompted the board to deny him an early release.

Halifax Regional Police issued a statement Tuesday under its high-risk offender protocol saying the 55-year-old was expected to move to the Halifax area after his release from New Brunswick's Dorchester Penitentiary the same day. The police warning was accompanied by a photo of Cooper.

Cooper's case attracted national attention after the parents of a teenager who died in a collision with Cooper's vehicle asked Nova Scotia authorities to provide Cooper's name and photo to liquor stores, bars and other licensed establishments.

As part of his release, Cooper must meet several conditions, including a lifetime driving ban and a two-year order to abstain from buying, possessing or drinking alcohol.

Mike Maloney of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp., which owns the province's liquor stores, said it was instructing all of its employees that they should call 911 if Cooper is spotted in any of their outlets.

Maloney said the Crown agency has a standard protocol when it comes to restricting the sale of alcohol to those facing court conditions, adding that the only thing unusual about Cooper's case is that employees across the province are being alerted.

"It's relatively routine," he said. "The system is the same but the scale is larger."

Cooper is required according to his court-ordered conditions to have another photo taken for the police if he changes his appearance.

He was convicted of two counts of impaired driving causing death following a May 2004 crash in Cape Breton that killed Angela Smits, 19, and her 20-year-old boyfriend, Michael MacLean.

Gerard Smits, the woman's father, said he was pleased with the police warning.

"I'm assuming ... the reason for their action was the same reason for our action," he said from his home in Sydney River. "I'm very glad that the Halifax Regional Police saw what I saw and determined that they should make the announcement."

Smits also applauded the liquor corporation's move.

"What we need is for their employees to know what this person looks like so that when he does walk in, they can refuse to sell him alcohol and call 911," he said. "They recognize that there's a danger to the public."

The province's Utility and Review Board, which can hear appeals on some aspects of liquor licencing, released a response to Smits' request late Tuesday saying it didn't have jurisdiction to become involved in the matter.

As for Cooper's statements to the parole board, Smits said they have left him baffled.

"It doesn't make sense to anybody," he said. "This is why this case is so special. ... People are worried about it."

Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, said Cooper's behaviour stunned him.

"I've never seen anything like it ... nothing to this extreme," said Murie, who has been with MADD for 17 years. "Most convicted drunk drivers will tell the parole board what they want to hear."

The parole board has described Cooper's attitude as "rigid."

"You admitted to your pattern of drinking and driving and stated that you would likely consume alcohol and drive a motor vehicle regardless of whether or not a special condition or a court order was imposed," a parole board official wrote last March after a hearing that denied early release.

"Your lack of progress during the past year has been demonstrated by your continued rigid thinking to the effect that you cannot commit to refraining from impaired driving."

Halifax police Const. Pierre Bourdages said high-risk offender warnings are rare and he couldn't recall the last time one applied to someone convicted of impaired driving causing death.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the crash happened in 2007.

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