New Impaired Driving / DUI Laws in Alberta

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Cory Wilson is a criminal defence lawyer, serving Calgary, Okotoks, Airdrie, Strathmore, Cochrane, Canmore, Didsbury, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Turner Valley.

New Impaired Driving / DUI Laws in Alberta

On December 1, 2020, the Alberta Provincial Government took a radical step by de-criminalizing impaired driving /DUIs in Alberta for first-time offenders. As a result, those caught drunk behind the wheel will not be criminally charged regardless of how intoxicated they are. Instead, they will be given a ticket, have their vehicle impounded and lose their license for 90 days. The fear of a criminal record is now gone and so are many of the defences afforded to all people across the country accused of a crime.

The Alberta Government has given the power to police to be the judge, jury and executioner, all in the name of saving court time.

This new model is based on British Columbia that de-criminalized impaired driving in 2010. According to their statistics often referred to by proponents of this system, since de-criminalization came into place, impaired driving offences are down. Unfortunately, those who like to cite this statistic fail to acknowledge that during the same period of time, the amount of people driving is down significantly especially in urban centers such as Vancouver.

Immediate Roadside Sanctions Program

The new Immediate Roadside Sanctions (IRS) Program was introduced on December 1, 2020 and will provide a comprehensive array of serious, immediate and escalating consequences for impaired drivers. Consequences for drivers will include driver’s license suspensions, new fines, vehicle seizures, mandatory education, and participation in the Ignition Interlock Program. Increased impaired driving consequences under the new IRS Program will include:

  • Driver’s license suspensions;
  • Fines of up to $2,000;
  • Increasing length of vehicle seizure up to 30 days;
  • New mandatory education programs for repeat offenders; and
  • Participation in the IIP for repeat offenders.

SafeRoads Alberta

Most first-time impaired drivers will be able to deal with the new penalties through SafeRoads Alberta, a new branch dedicated to providing a speedy method of resolving disputes. The new process will be significantly quicker than going to court. Matters are to be dealt with within 30 days. Repeat offenders, impaired drivers who cause bodily harm or death, and other more serious cases will still receive criminal charges in addition to the other penalties.

The Alberta Government hopes that by decriminalizing impaired driving/DUI, the following will be the result:

  • Freeing up about 8 percent of court time to ensure Alberta’s prosecutors and courts can clear their multi-year backlog to prosecute serious criminal matters;
  • Eliminating approximately 1,200 complexes full, or multi-day trials; and
  • Freeing up more than 30,000 hours of police time – ensuring police are on the streets protecting Albertans and their communities
When a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a driver has committed an impaired offence, the driver:
• Is issued an administrative penalty called the Alberta Administrative License Suspension (AALS).
• Immediate 15 month suspension.
• Three-day vehicle seizure.
• Criminal charged with court appearance.
• After 90 days, can apply to have the Interlock system (blow box) installed in their vehicle.
When a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a driver has committed an impaired offence, the driver will:
• Be issued an administrative penalty called IRS FAIL.
• Receive a 30 day vehicle seizure.
• Be issued a $1,000 fine.
• Be required to complete mandatory impaired driving education.
• If a repeat offender, or there is bodily harm or injury, they receive an escalating administrative penalty and will be criminally charged criminally with an impaired offence.
• After 90 days, can apply to have the Interlock system (blow box) installed in their vehicle.
• If driver chooses not to participate in Interlock, they will be suspended for the entire 15 months.
If a driver wants to fight their license suspension, they must
• File a Notice of Appeal within $30 at a cost of $150.
• Set a hearing in front of a panel either in writing or in person.
If a driver wants to fight their notice, the will:
• Access the website and pay the fine, request time to pay or request a review (appeal)
• Attend an oral review by phone or video which will be scheduled within 21 days of the request.
• Receive a written decision within 30 days of the issuance of the notice.
The driver will also have to proceed to the Criminal Courts to resolve the criminal charge. This can include:
• A driver will also be arrested, detained for several hours to conduct further testing and be processed and then released with a requirement to return to court or face additional criminal charges.
• The individual must attend at one or more initial docket appearances and ultimately at a trial. The trial process is complex and generally requires expert assistance to navigate..
• Upon conviction a driver will receive a criminal punishment and a permanent criminal record
If the driver is unsatisfied, they may seek Judicial Review at the Court of Queen’s Bench, which could take many months and is an incredible expense.

New Impaired Driving DUI Laws in Alberta 2

What is an Immediate Roadside Suspension Review?

An Immediate Roadside Suspension (IRS) Review is essentially an appeal of all of the penalties given to you by the police during the traffic stop. This includes the vehicle seizure, fines and license suspension.

It is near-impossible to know how successful your appeal will be until you actually file the appeal, as you will not be given any of the evidence against you until you actually file the appeal. The cost of this is $150 which is non-refundable. This fee is paid online through a portal found here.

Once a review is set, the Alberta Government will provide the evidence gathered by police during their “investigation” which is essentially having you breathe into a roadside screening device. Whereas this device is not sufficient to prove a driver was over the legal limit in a criminal matter, the Alberta Government has determined that it is sufficient for the IRS.

A skilled defence lawyer will be able to review this disclosure and determine if grounds exist to have your suspension and associated fines overturned.

If you are charged with a criminal offence, the onus is on the prosecutor to prove you are guilty. Under this IRS system, the Alberta Government has decided that the police make no mistakes and the onus is on the driver to prove they are innocent. This is done by demonstrating that the police officer erred during their investigation and didn’t have grounds to have you blow into the device. There are a number of avenues of attack, despite the onus being on you to prove your innocence.

The review is either done in writing or through video communication. Unlike a criminal trial, you do not get to cross-examine the police officer. In fact, under the legislation, the police officer’s notes and report are deemed to be taken under oath.

The full legislation is found here.

Judicial Review

If you are not successful at the IRS review, the next step is to file for Judicial Review at the Court of Queen’s Bench. This is your first opportunity to actually take your matter in from of a judge, rather than a government administrator. The Court of Queen’s Bench judge will review the evidence and the IRS review decision to determine if it is reasonable.

What do I do after I get charged?

The most important thing you can do is contact a lawyer as soon as possible after being charged under the IRS program. You only have a limited period of time to file the appeal, so you must act quickly.

Cory Wilson has significant experience defending individuals charged with DUIs, impaired driving and refusing to provide a sample of breath. With this experience, he can properly evaluate your disclosure and determine whether filing an IRS review is the right decision for you.

Cory Wilson is a criminal defence lawyer based in Calgary. If you have been charged with a criminal offence or are a suspect in a criminal investigation, call today for a free, no-obligation consultation.