Lawyer answers 5 most common questions about Canada’s impaired driving Legislation changes

Police officers are now able to conduct roadside, warrantless searches to compel drivers to provide a breath sample…and they don’t should form any grounds to be able to do so.

Understandably, this has left a great deal of people confused and searching for answers.

In this column, I will attempt to answer the five most commonly asked questions about modifications to Canada’s impaired driving laws.

1. How have impaired driving laws changed?

While there have been a number of changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws, the most notable change in alcohol-impaired driving law has to do with the process at the roadside.

Before December 18, 2018, police officers who stopped a motor vehicle were needed to do a preliminary investigation before making a breathalyzer demand. This was in order to find out whether or not they had reasonable grounds to suspect that the motorist had alcohol in their body.

They might also make note of physical symptoms of alcohol consumption, such as bloodshot, glassy eyes, slurred speech or coordination difficulties.

If, after considering these factors, the officer felt they had reasonable grounds to suspect that the person had alcohol in their body, they might ask them to submit to a roadside breathalyzer test. Without such reasons, the officer couldn’t make such a need and the motorist would be permitted to continue on.

Under the new law, the reasonable suspicion standard for alcohol impaired driving was done away with. A police officer no longer needs to form any grounds at all to be able to compel a driver to undergo a roadside breath test. The test is now arbitrary and mandatory in nature.

The sole precondition in producing a breathalyzer demand is that the officer must have a device on hand. If they do not, then they have to form a reasonable suspicion to be able to detain the driver until one becomes available to them.

2. Why have the impaired driving laws changed?

These changes were caused by Bill C-46. This bill was introduced as the companion bill to Bill C-45, aka the Cannabis Act, which legalized recreational cannabis on October 17, 2018.

The reason for these changes boiled down to safety. Proponents of the changes said they were necessary so as to increase road safety and to better protect the community given the legalization of cannabis.

While community safety is obviously a concern, the truth of cannabis legalization did not pile up to what many had envisioned. There is nothing to indicate that the number of impaired drivers on our roadways increased after legalization. Police departments throughout the nation reported nothing but business as usual.

In reality, rates of impaired driving have been more of less declining since the 1980s.

Therefore, while many will argue that these changes were required in order to curb drunk drivers, there is little in the way of sensible justification for such extreme changes at this point in time.

3. Does this mean that it is zero tolerance for alcohol and driving?

Although the law about impaired driving is strict, it is not zero tolerance.

When it comes to alcohol, the Criminal Code dictates it is an offence to drive with an excess of 80 mg of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood. Additionally it is an offence to drive if a person is impaired by alcohol, despite what their blood alcohol concentration might be.

It follows that an individual could theoretically be convicted of an impaired driving offence, even with a blood alcohol content below the legal limit or with no evidence of a blood alcohol content at all.

In addition to our criminal laws, in addition, there are administrative sanctions which can be applied to motorists provincially.

In B.C., we have the Motor Vehicle Act, which boosts one of the nation ’s toughest impaired driving strategies. Authorities can issue driving prohibitions, monetary penalties and even impound vehicles for driver’s whom they deem to be under the influence or who provide breath samples which enroll a ‘warn’ or a ‘neglect ’ on roadside breath testing equipment.

4. Can I refuse to provide a breath sample?

Refusing to offer a breath sample constitutes a different, but equally serious, offence under both provincial and federal laws.

A criminal conviction for refusing to offer a breath sample includes a compulsory one-year driving prohibition, a large monetary fine and a criminal record.


Authorities have almost unlimited powers to stop motor vehicles in this province and across the nation. They often stop vehicles to check for valid insurance and driver’s permits and to conduct routine sobriety checks. That is why — in part – we see a lot of roadblocks, especially over the holidays and throughout the summer.

If you abide by traffic laws or commit any moving violations, then the chances of a police officer stopping your vehicle lessen. However, it is impossible to ensure that you’ll never be stopped by police for any reason at all.

Some lawyer and community advocates have voiced concern that racial minorities may be more frequently targeted for so-called “arbitrary ” sobriety stops than other groups. This is a real concern, especially given that data support the assertation that these individuals are more likely to be targeted for police street-checks and “carding. ”

At the end of the day, there is no sure-shot way to ensure that you do not end up the subject of a random, mandatory roadside breath test — and although we can expect that these laws will be challenged in due time, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

This article is for informational purposes only and doesn’t constitute legal advice.

Featured picture courtesy of CBC.

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