Cops should be allowed to randomly test for drunk drivers: MPs

 

 
 
 
 
Police constable Emannuel Dupuis (left), joined officers from the Surete de Quebec (yellow rain jackets) pull over cars during a roadblocks on bridges in Montreal. Under current provincial and federal law, police can stop a vehicle to check the condition of the driver, including his or her sobriety. Police cannot request a breath sample unless they reasonably suspect that a driver is drunk.
 

Police constable Emannuel Dupuis (left), joined officers from the Surete de Quebec (yellow rain jackets) pull over cars during a roadblocks on bridges in Montreal. Under current provincial and federal law, police can stop a vehicle to check the condition of the driver, including his or her sobriety. Police cannot request a breath sample unless they reasonably suspect that a driver is drunk.

Photograph by: John Mahoney, Montreal Gazette

OTTAWA — A parliamentary committee has recommended that police officers be given the power to conduct random roadside breath tests on drivers, a change that would remove the legal requirement for officers to have a "reasonable" suspicion that drivers are drunk.

Under current provincial and federal law, police can stop a vehicle to check the condition of the driver, including his or her sobriety. Police cannot request a breath sample unless they reasonably suspect that a driver is drunk.

The Commons justice committee recommended in a report released Thursday that police be able to request a breath test at any time, regardless of whether the driver smells of alcohol or shows signs of impairment.

Committee chairman Ed Fast conceded that such an amendment would likely be challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects individuals against unreasonable search or seizure. He said, however, the committee concluded that random testing is the most "effective deterrent" available to police.

"We believe the issue of impaired driving is grave enough in Canada to warrant the government allowing randomized breath testing, and it would be up to the courts to determine whether in fact it's reasonable," Fast told reporters at a news conference.

The committee also supports tougher sanctions against repeat offenders, as well as drivers with more than 160 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, a blood-alcohol level of 0.16.

The MPs stopped short of recommending that the legal blood-alcohol limit be lowered to 0.05 from 0.08, as advocated by organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Most provinces allow police to automatically suspend a driver's licence if the driver registers a blood-alcohol level above 0.05. However, it's not an offence under the Criminal Code unless the driver's level is above 0.08.

Fast said the main reason the committee didn't recommend lowering the level was that such a change would overburden police and prosecutors. The committee was told that dropping the level to 0.05 would add 75,000 to 100,000 cases of impaired driving to the justice system each year. Presently, there are about 50,000 cases per year.

"That would become untenable, and the whole system would fall apart. That is not to say that in the future, if resources are made available, that this wouldn't be reconsidered," said Fast.

However, in a dissenting opinion submitted with the committee's report, New Democrat MP Joe Comartin noted that a legal limit of 0.05 has been implemented in most major industrialized countries without imposing unmanageable strains on justice systems.

He also noted that medical scientists in Canada and abroad have "definitively determined" that a 0.05 level represents the threshold at which a driver is sufficiently impaired to "present an imminent danger to himself and others."

"A good deal of the evidence that we took showed that, clearly, people are impaired at the 0.05 level," Comartin told reporters.

Comartin also argues a national standard is needed due to an "ineffective patchwork" of provincial drunk-driving rules. In most provinces, police can suspend a driver's licence if the driver exceeds the 0.05 level. But in Quebec, Alberta and Yukon, the threshold for suspension is 0.08.

Darren Eke, a spokesman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, said the minister looks forward to reviewing the report. An omnibus crime bill introduced by the government, and enacted last year, imposed tougher sentences on impaired-driving offences, the spokesman noted.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Police constable Emannuel Dupuis (left), joined officers from the Surete de Quebec (yellow rain jackets) pull over cars during a roadblocks on bridges in Montreal. Under current provincial and federal law, police can stop a vehicle to check the condition of the driver, including his or her sobriety. Police cannot request a breath sample unless they reasonably suspect that a driver is drunk.
 

Police constable Emannuel Dupuis (left), joined officers from the Surete de Quebec (yellow rain jackets) pull over cars during a roadblocks on bridges in Montreal. Under current provincial and federal law, police can stop a vehicle to check the condition of the driver, including his or her sobriety. Police cannot request a breath sample unless they reasonably suspect that a driver is drunk.

Photograph by: John Mahoney, Montreal Gazette

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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