Offenders could lose licenses until their cases are dealt with in court

Alberta motorists accused of impaired driving will continue to face indefinite driver’s licence suspensions, a judge ruled Friday.

In a written ruling handed down Friday by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Thomas Wakeling, a 2012 amendment to the province’s Traffic Safety Act imposing licence suspensions for drivers accused of blood alcohol levels greater than 0.08 isn’t unconstitutional.

“There is nothing objectionable about the duration of Alberta’s administrative licence suspension,” he wrote in the decision.

“It is neither overbroad, nor arbitrary.”

Driving is not a constitutionally protected right, he said in the ruling.

The changes, put into effect July 1, 2012, immediately and indefinitely suspends the driver’s licences of those accused of impaired driving until the matter is dealt with in court.

Four Alberta motorists launched a legal challenge saying the suspension penalizes drivers before they have an opportunity to plead their innocence in court.

“We’ve got people who have not been found guilty of anything, yet are being deemed a danger,” said Shannon Prithipaul, president of Alberta’s Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, which opposed the legislation.

“Many of those people are absolutely not a danger, but we’re punishing them the same way as if they were — if you want a free and just society, that’s a problem.”

Facing the prospect of being without their licence for months has many defendants opting to plead guilty instead of waiting to prove their innocence in court, she said.

Wakeling, in his decision, said the average wait time for an impaired driving charge to appear in front of the courts is three months.

However, in many rural jurisdictions, Prithipaul said some defendants wait anywhere from six months to a year before appearing in front of a judge.

“People who admit that they are guilty, know they are guilty and go in and plead guilty right off the bat, are usually driving within three months if they are in the Ignition Interlock Program,” she said. “But the person who is innocent and needs to go to trial to establish their innocence, they’re often waiting six to ten months down the road, and without a licence a lot longer than those who just plead guilty.”

Praising the decision, Alberta’s Justice Minister Jonathan Denis said the ruling upholds the government’s attempts to make the roads safer for all motorists.

“I’m very proud that Alberta has some of the strongest drunk driving laws in the country,” he said.

“We are very pleased the court has again upheld our legislation.”

The four plaintiffs have 30 days to file with the Alberta Court of Appeal, a course Prithipaul said they are very likely to take.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear a similar challenge to British Columbia’s impaired driving law dismissed by the province’s highest court in 2011.

Since July 1, 2012, drivers found to have  blood alcohol over .08 …

  • are criminally charged.
  • receive an immediate licence suspension, in place until criminal charge is resolved
  • have their vehicle seized for 3 days for first charge, and 7 days for second and third charge
  • must also take the “Planning Ahead” course for first charge and “IMPACT” course for second and third.
  • require a mandatory ignition interlock after a criminal conviction of one year for first conviction, three years for second conviction, and five years for third conviction
  • board hearing optional

Since Sept. 1, 2012, drivers found to have blood alcohol between .05 and .08 …

  • have licence suspended for 3 days and vehicle seized for 3 days for first offence.
  • have licence suspended for 15 days and vehicle seized for 7 days and “Planning Ahead” course required for second offence.
  • have licence suspended for 30 days and vehicle seized for 7 days and “IMPACT” course required for third offence.

November 2011 — Bill introduced pitching immediate, indefinite licence suspension for anyone busted with blood alcohol over .08; additional rules around drivers caught with .05-.08 blood alcohol

December 2011 — New laws on impaired driving are passed at Alberta Legislature.

July 2012 — Province rolls out new laws affecting drivers caught with blood alcohol over .08

September 2012 — Province rolls out new laws affecting drivers caught with .05-.08 blood alcohol

Source: Calgary Sun

RELATED STORY: Alberta's tough new drunk driving laws to be challenged


Last updated on: 2015-03-07 | Link to this post