Getting more drunk drivers off the road has near-universal approval among Canadians, but a private member’s bill aimed at doing just that is overzealous in its effort to save lives.

There’s a lot of good in Bill C-226, which was recently tabled in Parliament by Conservative MP Steven Blaney. The legislation calls for mandatory minimum sentences for impaired driving and would give judges the ability to apply consecutive sentences if more than one person is killed. Judges would also have the capacity to impose escalating penalties for repeat offenders. These stiffer sanctions more accurately reflect society’s revulsion for those who risk lives by getting behind the wheel while drunk and should serve as a stronger deterrent.

Where the bill parts company with good sense, however, is in permitting mandatory roadside screening, which would give police the right to demand a breath sample from a driver at any time, whether the vehicle was moving or not.

No matter how noble the cause, police can’t be given the unfettered ability to demand that motorists provide proof they’re not drunk. The presumption of innocence is one of society’s key tenets, and it’s unreasonable to abandon such a cherished principle, even for a crime as despicable as drunk driving.

Society, for example, also condemns family violence, but we don’t allow police to go to a residence and demand proof that no one has been harmed. We would insist there had been a report of abuse, or at least some sign of something amiss in the home. That is much the case with current impaired driving laws, which require police to have reasonable grounds to believe a person has been drinking before demanding a breath sample.

There are also practical concerns with mandatory breath tests. Police could mischievously use their powers to delay any driver, even if they had no reason to suspect he was impaired. Obtaining the breath sample would give officers license to invade citizens’ privacy, obtaining personal information and asking questions they would otherwise be unable to pose.

Kelly Ernst, a board member with the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, has expressed concern with the provision. “That one is ripe for abuse,” he said, adding anyone who refuses to comply during a random test could see a “whole list of other penalties ensue.”

By all means, let’s get tough with drunk motorists, but Canada’s new impaired driving laws — if embraced by the Liberals and passed in Parliament — should not get tough on innocent people and breach their rights.

Source: Calgary Herald


Last updated on: 2016-03-11 | Link to this post