A Tory MP has proposed a controversial solution to the problem of drunk driving in Canada: amend the Criminal Code so that police can give motorists random breath tests.
The MP, former Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, proposed a number of changes to the code, including increased prison time for drunk drivers whose actions result in death, and longer sentences for repeat DUI offenders.
But the measure that is surely the most controversial is one that allows police to ask any driver to take a breathalyzer test at the side of the road. At present, police must have reasonable grounds before demanding a breath test.
The randomized breath test, like the one currently administered by police at the roadside, is not admissible in court as evidence, but if the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is above the legal limit the police may request a test done on an official police breathalyzer.
Checkpoints are used in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as 38 states in the US. They still draw controversy, however, as civil liberties advocates argue that they violate the provision against unreasonable search and seizure in Section 8 of the Charter of Rights. In effect, it’s a warrantless search. In Canada, checkpoint advocates will argue that exceptions can be made for”lawful and reasonable” warrantless searches. That description will apply here, supporters say, because they will be enacted into law, and because there is simply no other way to catch all the drunk drivers in Canada.
And that is the crux of the matter: drunk driving is still the leading cause of criminal death in Canada, and current measures aren’t working. Steven Blaney, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and others argue that waiting until drunk drivers have collisions to arrest them is making the law useless: the idea of DUI laws is to prevent collisions. Increasing police powers and making that law enforcement present known would be a greater deterrent to drunk driving.
Nevertheless, Canada is vigilant about protecting its civil liberties, and random breath tests might be too much of an intrusion into the lives of innocent people to be tolerated. Countries have to make their own decisions on this thorny legal issue. We will soon know where Canada stands on it.