Just over a month into Canada’s new impaired driving laws with Bill C-46 and there is still much confusion over exactly what reach police agencies have.
Several memes and comments have been posted on social media which some law enforcement is saying is gross exaggeration and paranoia by the public which has had to be clarified.
The new laws will give police officers the authority to demand breathalyzer tests from any driver they pull over. Previously, officers could only test drivers if they had a reasonable suspicion the person was impaired. Any driver who refuses to take the test can be charged. The new impaired driving laws were seen as necessary to help curtail some common defence loopholes known as Bolus drinking and Post-drinking. The new laws eliminate this defence, making it illegal to be at or over the limit within two hours of being behind the wheel.
In Ireland, mandatory screening reduced the number of road deaths by about 40 per cent in the first four years it was enforced. Canada now aligns with other countries such as Ireland, Australia, Denmark, France and Germany with some of the toughest drinking-and-driving laws on record in the world.
It is the two-hour provision that is causing the most controversy with visions of people being randomly tested at restaurants or their homes. Also concerns have been raised that minority groups will be targeted with random traffic stops where intent goes far past a breathalyzer test.
The new legislation has its heart in the right place as a recent study by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control showed Canada ranking first among 19 wealthy countries for percentage of roadside deaths linked to alcohol impairment. Any law that can help curb that number should be a welcomed one for increased public safety, as it has been more than 40 years (1976) since any major federal changes have been made to alcohol impaired driving legislation. By 2008, drinking and driving cases made up 12 per cent of all criminal charges in Canada, making it the largest single offence group. In 2008, it was estimated that 53,000 drinking and driving cases were heard every year in Canada. But like any good intention, there is room for the new legislation to be abused by the less scrupulous, just as there were provisions that were taken advantage of in previous incarnations.
Some may say someone bringing in a huge amount of alcohol bottles to a depot is just cause to administer a breathalyzer test with the two-hour limit, while another is saying its just long overdue recycling.
There could be an ‘anonymous’ tip from a disgruntled business partner or ex-wife/husband or someone driving erratically where someone is harassed at home to be tested who cracked open a few beers to watch the hockey game after work. There could be an overzealous officer trying to impress the brass by making flimsy-excused traffic stops to administer the test. What of the elderly driver who gets pulled over but does not have the lung capacity to have the test administered properly and is charged with failure to comply, but is completely sober?
These are of course all theoretical, but could and have become a reality under the new legislation. It will be a learning process for police officers as they find that balance for concern for public safety in determining just cause and civil rights in public relations with their various communities as the new impaired driving legislation emerges from its infancy.
Overall, the concern for public safety should be higher than the minor inconveniences some may suffer from the new legislation. But if they do become major with questionable cause, there are certainly avenues afforded to the public in case of perceived police overreach.