Anyone who refuses a breathalyzer test will also face a mandatory indefinite suspension as a result of amendments to the Traffic Safety Act set to take effect June 27.

A Saskatoon defence lawyer is "steamed" about a new provincial law that would suspend the licence of every accused drunk driver while his or her charge is before the courts. For those who plead not guilty and want a trial, that could take six months to a couple of years.

"In Saskatchewan? Are you kidding me? You need your licence," said Ron Piche, pointing to a scarcity of public transportation, deadly cold winters and a driver's licence requirement for many jobs.

The indefinite suspensions will also be mandatory for anyone who refuses to provide a breath sample to police.

Amendments to the Traffic Safety Act that are set take effect June 27 resulted from an all-party committee that last year made 26 recommendations pertaining to driving, from alcohol impairment, to distracted driving, speeding and wildlife collisions.

Defence lawyer Mark Brayford said he applauds the government's concern about drunk driving and Saskatchewan's high police enforcement, but he takes issue with the indefinite suspension amendment. "The presumption of innocence needs to be paramount," Brayford said.

Even people charged with murder have a right to seek release from custody until their trials. Courts already have the power to impose conditions to protect the public, including imposing driving prohibitions, he said. The provisions kick in only when public safety requires the offender stay in jail until the trial or not drive until the trial, he said.

"The unfortunate affect of this amendment is it applies to every alleged impaired driver, both the innocent and the guilty alike," he said.

"That's a glitch that needs to be corrected ... It's unfair."

Trials are often scheduled six to nine months down the road, and further delays can easily stretch that to more than a year.

Piche predicts the already-busy courts will be overwhelmed with demands for early trials that they're not in a position to accommodate.

A breathalyzer certificate with an elevated reading or a refusal to give a breath sample do not automatically equate to a drunk driving conviction, said Piche, who successfully defends many accused.

The change allows the province to "make an endrun around the lawyers," he said.

Sandy Crighton, manager of driver programs with SGI, said she is aware of the issue but is not put off by it.

"Once the person is acquitted or the charges are dismissed or withdrawn, that immediate suspension will stop," she said.

The new suspension is a provincial law, similar to one that already imposes short-term suspensions on drivers with blood-alcohol readings as low as .04, she said.

"The province has decided they want (the over .08) people suspended indefinitely until they've had their day in court," Crighton said.

Saskatchewan has the highest per capita rate of impaired driving fatalities in Canada.

Between 2000 and 2012, 41 per cent of deaths on the road were alcohol-related, as were 12 per cent of traffic injuries.

"Where other jurisdictions are trending down, we're trending up," Crighton said.

Alberta has a similar suspension law; it's currently being challenged in court. Piche said he thinks it will make its way to the Supreme Court.

"I'm just astounded that our government wouldn't let somebody else fight this fight until (then,)" he said.

Crighton said the committee was aware of the Alberta challenge when it recommended the change.

"That challenge could go on for a long time," she said.

Brayford said he thinks the section dealing with the indefinite suspension should simply be left out when the legislation is proclaimed.

Source: The Star Phoenix


Last updated on: 2014-04-25 | Link to this post