LETHBRIDGE – The Lethbridge Police Service has decided to get right out in front of the changes coming in relation to mandatory alcohol screening by explaining what’s going to happen.
Sgt. Wade Davidson, with the Traffic Response Unit, says effective Dec. 18, the federal government is introducing a number of new initiatives to combat impaired driving.
“One of the big initiatives that’s coming out is the mandatory alcohol screening. What that’s going to mean is that up until December 18th, police officers have required reasonable suspicion that a person has alcohol in their body before they can make a roadside breath demand. As of December 18th, how it’s going to work is an officer who has an approved roadside screening device with them will be able to make a very brief demand of that person to provide a sample as soon as they are stopped.”
The traffic stop would have to be for a lawful grounds, according to Davidson, but as soon as they’re stopped the officer will be in a position to make a mandatory alcohol screening demand.
The changes to the wording, specifically about reasonable suspicion of impairment, has led the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to express concerns 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 on Tuesday, Dec. 4, if a police officer were to stop someone and it was motivated by bias, that breath test would be inadmissible in court because it would be unlawful and contrary to the charter.
Davidson was asked what the changes mean locally and mentioned how right now, the Supreme Court gives officers a great deal of leeway as far as what is lawful to make a traffic stop.
“If it’s for a traffic violation or a bonafide traffic safety purpose, officers can stop basically any motorist on the road, as long as it’s for that purpose. It can’t be for another purpose outside of traffic safety. The main things we can pull people over for, other than an observed traffic violation, is to determine the mechanical condition of a vehicle, to verify the documents of the driver and the vehicle, and to determine the driver’s sobriety,” Davidson said.
Other major changes outlined in Bill C-46 include:
- Increased mandatory minimum penalties for impaired driving
- Removal of the “bolus drinking defence” – a reckless behaviour where a driver states that a large amount of alcohol was consumed just before driving and therefore was not fully absorbed when driving occurred, thus the driver’s blood alcohol concentration was not yet over the legal limit at the time of driving
- Limitation of the “intervening drinking defence” – a behaviour where a driver involved in an impaired driving incident would consume a large amount of alcohol immediately after driving but before police could administer a breath test
- New aggravating factors in sentencing impaired drivers
Davidson wanted to be clear that if you’re pulled over and asked for a sample, it’s not because officers believe you’re guilty of anything, it’s just the law of the land come Dec. 18.
However, for anyone thinking they’ll refuse a sample, they might want to think again.
“If there’s a refusal to provide a sample on the roadside device, we’re not bringing them back here [to the station] to give them another shot at it, refusal to provide a roadside sample is a criminal offence,” Davidson explained. “It’s treated as if someone was double the legal limit, it’s a very high minimum penalty that’s going to be in place for refusal.”
The aims of the new enforcement from Davidson’s understanding is plainly to reduce impaired driving.
“We know at check stops that when we're talking to drivers, we miss a significant of drivers who are impaired. You’ve got environmental conditions, drivers do a good job of camouflaging it, and they can correct behaviour for a brief period of time.
“Whereas now with mandatory alcohol screening, the expectation is going to be everybody who pulls up to a check stop is going to be screened for alcohol consumption. We want to provide education to the public as to here’s what the law is as it stands as of December 18th as far as mandatory alcohol screenings go."
That mean’s there is a legal basis for officers to make the demand, but Davidson and his fellow officers understand that it will be challenged to the supreme court at some point.
“We will follow the instructions of the courts as it goes through that process at that point in time.”
Removing the bolus drinking defence and limiting the intervening drinking defence may not jump out at people reading the changes, but Davidson actually says that the intervening drinking defence was a significant challenge to them as police.
“Where we would have a complaint of a collision or a vehicle that’s been involved in a collision and the driver has been identified, they stop and get out of the vehicle, grab a bottle of liquor and quickly down it before we’re ever in a position to screen them for alcohol consumption.”
These changes eliminate that defence as being a reasonable excuse.
“What it does is now the offence time is actually when we obtain the breath samples, if it’s within two hours of driving, that’s when it becomes an offence rather than at the time of driving,” Davidson said.
As far as the bolus drinking defence, Davidson gave an example of a person drinking a significant quantity of liquor, says they’re driving right after, and then argues their blood-alcohol concentration was not accurate because the testing was done later on after the absorption of the liquor.
All of that explanation leads to one question for police, will it make your job easier?
“It definitely simplifies the impaired driving defences. Another big argument we would have would be disclosure over whether instruments were working and how much defence counsel could ask for in trials. This legislation does limit that somewhat, and there has to be a reason to go beyond what is reasonably expected, so that does make it easier,” Davidson stated, adding it’s quite a bit simpler than the old legislation, and it’s largely in plain language which was very refreshing for police.
And since it’s the holiday season, Davidson also had a message for people ahead of the changes taking place.
“What I’m hoping is that people are going to make good decisions and not drink and drive. Their odds of getting caught or apprehended are going to dramatically increase with this legislation.”
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