‘The in­tent is to save lives’

Lib­er­als de­fend new pow­ers to de­mand road­side breath sam­ples


OT­TAWA — Fed­eral min­is­ters are play­ing down the po­ten­tial for racial pro­fil­ing and civil-rights vi­o­la­tions as they tout a strict new law in­tended to curb drunk driv­ing.

Manda­tory al­co­hol screen­ing that takes ef­fect Dec. 18 will al­low po­lice to de­mand a breath sam­ple from any driver they law­fully stop — a lower bar than the cur­rent thresh­old, which re­quires rea­son­able sus­pi­cion the per­son has been drink­ing.

The road­side test could jus­tify fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­clud­ing more elab­o­rate test­ing at a po­lice sta­tion.

The govern­ment says the aim is to re­duce car­nage on the roads by help­ing po­lice catch driv­ers with more than the le­gal limit of al­co­hol in their blood­streams.

Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­son-ray­bould said Tues­day she has “ev­ery ex­pec­ta­tion” the new law will be chal­lenged in the courts, but added she is con­fi­dent it is con­sis­tent with the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms.

“The in­tent is to save lives, and this is an in­cred­i­bly jus­ti­fi­able pur­pose.”

The Cana­dian Civil Lib­er­ties As­so­ci­a­tion has ex­pressed con­cern that manda­tory al­co­hol screen­ing will un­fairly af­fect racial mi­nori­ties who are dis­pro­por­tion­ately sin­gled out by po­lice for traf­fic stops.

Or­ga­nized Crime Re­duc­tion Min­is­ter Bill Blair said if a po­lice stop were mo­ti­vated by bias, it would be un­law­ful and con­trary to the char­ter — and there­fore a breath test would be in­ad­mis­si­ble in court.

How­ever, po­lice could legally stop some­one for speed­ing, go­ing through a stop sign or as part of a hol­i­day spot check pro­gram, Blair said.

“They would have to have a law­ful rea­son to pull you over.”

Re­search sug­gests that up to half of driv­ers with a blood al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tion above the le­gal limit are not de­tected at road­side check stops, the Jus­tice Depart­ment says. An av­er­age of al­most four peo­ple die in Canada daily due to im­paired driv­ing, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral statis­tics.

Peo­ple have come to re­al­ize they can bluff their way through spot checks if they deny drink­ing or dis­guise their breath, mean­ing po­lice lack a rea­son to de­mand a test, said Blair, a for­mer po­lice chief.

The like­li­hood of some­one get­ting caught for hav­ing more than the al­low­able limit of al­co­hol in their sys­tem is “about to in­crease ex­po­nen­tially” un­der the new law, he said.

Manda­tory al­co­hol screen­ing is cur­rently in place in more than 40 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, France, Ger­many, Ire­land and Swe­den. The first part of the leg­is­la­tion, deal­ing with drugim­paired driv­ing, took ef­fect ear­lier this year in an­tic­i­pa­tion of le­gal recre­ational cannabis use. It au­tho­rized po­lice to use road­side oral fluid drug screen­ers and ush­ered in new driv­ing of­fences of hav­ing a pro­hib­ited con­cen­tra­tion of drugs in the blood­stream.

Of­fi­cials said Tues­day while there have been charges un­der the new drugged-driv­ing pro­vi­sions, no statis­tics are yet avail­able.


Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­son-ray­bould, right, looks on as Or­ga­nized Crime Re­duc­tion Min­is­ter Bill Blair speaks about drink­ing and driv­ing laws on Tues­day.

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