Under new legislation police officers in Alberta will determine whether or not to lay criminal offence charges on impaired drivers.
The Province of Alberta is to laregly decriminalization impaired driving with new legislation, Bill 29.
This anticipated decriminalization follows an Alberta Court of Appeal decision that struck down existing impaired driving laws, finding that it was unconstitutional to try the suspension of a driver’s licence to the outcome of the accused’s court case.
The Alberta Court of Appeal struck down the section of the province’s Traffic Safety Act that allowed for immediate and mandatory suspension for anyone charged with impaired driving. The Court ruled this was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as these laws ignored the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial before any punishment is imposed.
The Alberta government won’t appeal this ruling and has instead proposed Bill 29.
Bill 29 will significantly change the way impaired drivers are policed and prosecuted in Alberta.
Bill 29 will largely decriminalize impaired driving. Instead police officers will be granted the discretion whether to charge those who blow over the legal limit with a criminal offence.
Under Bill 29 it is likely that first time offenders will face administrative sanctions rather than criminal offence charges.
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These sanctions include fines, roadside towing and licence suspensions issued by police instead of criminal charges being laid.
Previously such sanctions for those convicted of impaired driving were tied to their criminal charges.
Under Bill 29, drivers who blow over the legal limit will see their licences suspended for three months without being convicted of a criminal offence.
Following which the driver may get their licence back if they agree to join the interlock program for one year.
The interlock program forces the driver to blow into a device attached to their vehicle, guaranteeing their sobriety before they can drive their vehicle.
Should they not wish to join the interlock program, their licence would remain suspended for another 12 months.
Bill 29 does not address criminal charges. This is absence is being interpreted as a means to allow the province of Alberta to decide whether to criminally charge those accused of impaired driving.
While the proposed laws may seem advantageous to those accused of impaired driving skeptics are critical that the proposed process doesn’t respect the presumption of innocence.
That to allow police officers to essentially charge, try and convict at the side of the road is unconstitutional as it doesn’t allow the accused due process.
As well, the new impaired-driving legislation addresses the anticipated legalization of marijuana and would impose a maximum $1,000 fine for a blood test positive for two to five nanograms per millimetre of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and a minimum $1,000 fine for a fist-time conviction on a reading above five ng/mL.
Again critics are skeptical, as depending on tolerance and usage, individuals will be affected differently and essentially the measurements are arbitrary as the number of nanograms does not correlate to the degree of impairment.
And while the .08 blood-alcohol limit is, by comparison, a more solid assessment of impairment, it does not address the potential for false readings due to faulty roadside testing equipment.
The legislation seems to be fiscally motivated as currently impaired driving prosecutions take up 40 per cent of trial time in provincial court.
Many people are offended that those accused of impaired driving will be automatically guilty without a trial or any meaningful appeal process. It is yet to be seen what role the Court of Appeal decision may play in any future legal challenges