The Liberal government has mounted a pre-emptive defence of its contentious new impaired driving bill, arguing that mandatory breath samples will serve as a strong deterrent and will not violate constitutional rights.
A charter statement from Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, tabled in the House of Commons today, outlines why the Liberals believe Bill C-46 upholds the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Defence lawyers have said the proposed reforms expose the government to a number of constitutional challenges, including a new section that gives police the power to demand a breath sample even if there’s no sign the driver has been drinking. Currently, an officer must have reasonable suspicion the person behind the wheel is impaired before administering the breathalyzer.
Today’s statement insists any interference in privacy is justified to meet the government’s “compelling objective” of enhanced road safety.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized as reasonable the authority, under provincial law and common law, of police officers to stop vehicles at random to ensure that drivers are licensed and insured, that the vehicle is mechanically fit, and to check for sobriety,” Wilson-Raybould’s statement reads.
‘Highly regulated context’
“The information revealed from a breath sample is, like the production of a driver’s licence, simply information about whether a driver is complying with one of the conditions imposed in the highly regulated context of driving. It does not reveal any personal or sensitive information and taking the sample is quick, and not physically invasive.”
A “fail” in the test does not constitute an offence, but could lead to further testing at a police station.
Mandatory breath tests are already the practice in a number of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The statement says they have led to a measurable reduction in accidents and deaths on roads and highways.
In Ireland, the tests have been credited with a 23 per cent reduction in road deaths in the 11 months after introduction. In New Zealand, visible mandatory-screening checkpoints were credited with a 32 per cent reduction in crashes, according to the statement.
Toronto defence lawyer Norm Stanford questioned that data, and called giving police unfettered power to demand a breath test “dangerous.”
“It allows for police abuse. Now, police for whatever reason they want, can make you do a breathalyzer. If you talk back to them or they feel you’re disrespecting them, they have the power to do that,” he said.
Accompanies pot legalization bill
Bill C-46 was tabled last month at the same time as legislation to legalize marijuana, and includes tougher penalties and new powers for police. To deal with drivers impaired by pot or other drugs, the legislation allows police to demand a driver…