March 27, 2023

Overreaching and unreasonable.

Those two words have been used frequently to describe the new driving-impaired laws that came into effect on Dec. 18, 2018. Many Canadians are upset by the new laws, as they feel they are a violation of their Charter rights.

Waterloo Regional Police Service Staff Sgt. Mike Hinsperger offered assurances last week that, even with the new changes to the legislation, police officers don’t have the right to enter homes to demand a breath sample when a citizen has done nothing wrong.

“It’s crucial to understand the new legislation with after two hours of driving a motor vehicle. People need to understand that it is only the case when an officer can make a lawful demand when there is a reasonable expectation that someone would have to provide a sample of breath to start with,” said Hinsperger. “People are saying that we can just start going into bars and in people’s homes and start demanding breath samples because they are sitting at home having a drink. Well, that is certainly not the case. The only time the police would have lawful authority to come to your home to make a breath demand is because of an investigation of some sort. I think that is the biggest misconception so far since the legislation has changed.”

Photo illustration by Jessica Towriss, Spoke News

The new changes are the result of Bill C-46, which was passed in June and came into effect in December. Mandatory alcohol screening is another change where police now can stop any vehicle arbitrarily and make a lawful demand for a breath sample by the driver. 

“Police do not have to have any suspicion of consumption of alcohol for that lawful demand to occur,” said Hinsperger. “So there is a reprisal with that. First, the person has to be actively operating a vehicle, which means in the driver’s seat when the vehicle is stopped, and the officer must have the roadside screening device with them and provide the demand.” 

The new laws were also put in place to eliminate the “bolus drinking defence,” where people argued that they consumed alcohol after being stopped by police or after a collision and that they were not under the influence at the time of the initial stop. Hinsperger said people who were under the influence and were in an accident used this defence quite often.

Carolyn Swinson, Ontario East regional director of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD), said that the new laws will make a considerable change in terms of road safety.

“We have seen in countries like Australia and Ireland, that have introduced these types of laws, that the numbers of injuries and deaths from impaired driving were reduced by over 20 per cent,” said Swinson.  In terms of it being a violation of Charter rights, we had one of Canada’s top charter rights lawyers, Peter Hogg, review the circumstances of mandatory alcohol screening and his opinion was that it would be consistent with the Charter of Rights. It will most definitely be challenged, but we just have to hope that the courts will understand that it is worthwhile.”

New impaired driving fines introduced on Dec. 18, 2018. (Government of Canada, Department of Justice)
Changes also have been made in regards to the fines associated with impaired driving. Higher fines and more consequences were introduced to deter the behaviour of driving under the influence.

In 2018, there were a total of 749 impaired charges laid in the Waterloo Region alone, not including refusals, which amounted to another 52.

“This gives you an idea of the numbers that we are catching, but how many are we missing and have not caught?” mused Hinsperger. “I think that people need the get their head around the fact that driving a motor vehicle is a privilege and not a right. There is no doubt in my mind that it will benefit road safety and allow innocent drivers that are abiding by the law to get to their destination safely. If we can decrease the risk for them, then I think it is a step in the right direction.”



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