New Impaired Driving Laws
On December 18, 2018, the Liberal government drastically changed impaired driving law for the worse. In an attempt to look tough on impaired driving, the government took steps to take away citizens’ constitutional rights, dramatically increased penalties and created some new offences entirely. While the new laws were expected from the legal community, the Liberal government passed the new laws with relatively no publicity, leaving Canadians mostly in the dark.
Perhaps the biggest change to Canada’s impaired driving laws is that police have now been given the authority to require a driver to provide a roadside sample of breath without any reasonable suspicion that they have consumed alcohol. Prior to the impaired driving amendments, police were required to have a reasonable suspicion that the driver had consumed alcohol. This was a very low test in which an admission to consumption or the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath was enough. The government was of the belief that this low test was somehow too difficult for police officers and now requires that a driver be subject to random screening tests simply because they were driving a vehicle.
While providing a roadside sample of breath is not an overly onerous task, the ability for police to conduct this seizure without any objective grounds erodes at the constitutional freedoms we enjoy in Canada. Individuals unable to provide a roadside sample for medical reasons (asthma or other respiratory issues), will be charged with the criminal offence of refusal, unless they can convince the police officer they really have a medical issue. Being charged with refusal results in an immediate and mandatory driving prohibition that will remain in place, even if the criminal charges get dropped.
In addition to removing the previously required grounds to demand a roadside sample of breath, the government has doubled the mandatory minimum penalty for refusing to provide a sample of breath from $1,000 to $2,000. This means that even if you have not had a drop to drink, but refuse or are unable to provide a sample of breath and are convicted, a judge has no discretion but to fine you a minimum of $2,000 in addition to a one year driving prohibition.
The new law also increases the maximum penalties for many alcohol-impaired driving offences.
Formerly, the mandatory minimum fines were: $1,000 for first offence, 30 days imprisonment for second offence, and 120 days in jail for a third offence.
The new penalties are as follows:
- First offence, with blood alcohol content of 80-119 mg: mandatory minimum $1,000 fine
- First offence, with blood alcohol content of 120-159 mg: mandatory minimum $1,500 fine
- First offence, with blood alcohol content of 160 mg or more: mandatory minimum $2,000 fine
- First offence, but refuse to be tested: mandatory minimum $2,000 fine
- Second offence: mandatory minimum 30 days imprisonment
- Third or more offence: mandatory minimum 120 days imprisonment
- Maximum penalties for impaired driving causing no bodily harm or death: summary conviction carries two years less a day imprisonment, indictment carries 10 years imprisonment
- Maximum penalties for impaired driving causing bodily harm: Summary conviction for less severe injuries carries two years less a day imprisonment, indictment carries 14 years imprisonment
- Maximum penalty impaired driving causing death: life imprisonment