Defense lawyer Bill Burchell sits at his desk in his Sydney Mines office in this file photo. Burchell said he said he doesn’t think the new proposed changes to the impaired driving laws will affect his job much, but he does find the proposal to have mandatory alcohol screening “offensive.”

‘An infringement of my liberties’

Proposed changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws could mean mandatory roadside alcohol screening, without suspicion of intoxication.

“I was a little surprised that the federal government would bring in legislation to do away with what you refer to as reasonable suspicion before you can administer roadside screening,” said Bill Burchell, a criminal defense attorney based out of Sydney Mines.

“I’m a little offended by that but I don’t make the legislation, I just deal with it when it’s enacted.”

The reforms are part of Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code ahead of marijuana legalization in July 2018. There are proposed drug impaired driving laws as well as proposed reforms to current impaired driving laws.

If mandatory alcohol screening is passed, police can demand breath samples from anyone they pull over or at checkpoints without suspicion that person has been drinking.

Currently, police need to suspect the driver has consumed alcohol. This could be the officer smelling alcohol, the driver slurring words or open bottles of liquor in the vehicle.

“The fact that as an individual I can be driving down the highway, showing no signs of impairment whatever, including no smell of alcohol, and policemen will be able to say I want you to blow into this roadside screening device, I think that’s an infringement of my liberties,” said Burchell, who’s been practising law for 43 years.

Even though he finds the proposed amendment offensive, Burchell said he thinks it won’t make much difference to his practice or how police conduct roadside screening now if approved.

“To be honest, police in many cases are supposed to have reasonable suspicion … sometimes the lines are blurred and they go right to the test itself. It’s a very minimal standard they have to meet.”

TJ McKeough, a defense lawyer with Brogan McKeough in Sydney, agrees.

“Right now you can have almost any little hint of suspicion and make someone blow into the roadside one or do the standard field sobriety test,” he said during a phone interview.

“A lot of people do get out of the breathalyzer charge when they say there was no reasonable grounds to make the breathalyzer demand. So (if approved) this will close a bit of a loophole.”

For McKeough, the proposed change doesn’t infringe on a person’s rights.

“You get into the fact that driving is not a right it is a privilege. People say that your movement is a right. But driving a car on a road is not a right. So it doesn’t really limit your rights per say,” he said.

“For me it’s not really a civil rights issue.”

MAAD Canada has been pushing the federal government to add mandatory roadside alcohol screening for about 10 years.

“MAAD Canada is very pleased to see mandatory screening at roadside (proposed) ... It significantly reduces the loss of life and injury,” said Susan MacAskill, MAAD Canada chapter services manager Atlantic region.

“For the statistics of death in this country, this particular measure will save approximately 200 lives (per year). So between 19 and 35 per cent reduction in deaths in our country if mandatory alcohol screening is approved.”

MacAskill said other countries like Australia, New Zealand and Ireland already have this in place and the proposed change isn’t infringing on personal rights.

“If you are going to get on a plane and fly somewhere … you will be subject to the same screening processes as everyone else. If you want to enter a government building, there are security measures you have to go through that’s required for the safety of those working behind the walls of that building,” she said.

“So, our roads need to be protected from people who will take the risk to drive in an intoxicated or drug-impaired state … There’s no Charter issue here. Everyone has the right to be safe on our highways and this is what this legislation will do.”

Proposed changes to impaired driving laws due to alcohol:

• Mandatory roadside alcohol screening.

• Allow officers to demand breath samples without suspicion.

• Increase maximum minimum fines for first offenders.

• Increase maximum penalties.

• Remove bolus drinking (“drinking and dashing”) defense.

• Limit “intervening drink defense.”

• Reduce time offender can’t drive.

Source: Cape Breton Post


Last updated on: 2017-12-27 | Link to this post