Carlos Sanchez-Aguirre, Whitehorse Mothers Against Drunk Driving treasurer , from left, Crown attorney Leo Lane, and RCMP Staff Sgt. Jane Boissonneault talk to media about Bill C46 and how it will affect roadside stops in the Yukon. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

New drunk driving laws to kick in Dec. 18

Police will soon be able to demand breath samples from drivers without needing reasonable suspicion

New impaired driving laws will be coming into force across Canada Dec. 18, changing everything from the definition of impaired driving to when police can legally request driver breath samples.

Bill C-46, which introduces a number of changes to the Criminal Code, received royal assent in Parliament in June.

One of the biggest changes is allowing police officers to demand breath samples from drivers even if an officer doesn’t have any evidence that a driver is impaired.

Under the current law, police officers must have a reasonable suspicion that a driver is impaired — for example, smelling alcohol on the driver’s breath — before requesting a breath sample.

The new no-suspicion approach is one that’s been in place in dozens of countries, including Australia and Ireland, for years now, Crown attorney Leo Lane told media at a press conference Dec. 12, and has been proven to get more drunk drivers off the road.

Both Lane and Yukon RCMP Staff Sgt. Jane Boissonneault told reporters that under the current law, some drunk drivers can slip through the cracks for reasons as simple as an officer having a cold and not being able to detect the smell of alcohol on a driver.

Come Dec. 18, Boissonneault said, officers would be able to, in theory, request a breath sample from a driver pulled over for having a broken taillight, or request samples from every driver that passes through a holiday checkstop.

Lane said he anticipates impaired driving trials where defendants will challenge whether the new law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“I would say any time there’s been a substantive change in impaired driving laws, Charter challenges are inevitable, so we fully expect that for the next few years there will be cases making their way up through the court where defendants are challenging the constitutionality of the new laws,” he said.

Other changes include increased mandatory minimum fines for certain blood alcohol concentrations and refusing to provide a breath sample. The minimum fine for a first impaired offence will remain $1,000, but will increase to $1,500 for a BAC of 0.12 and $2,000 for a BAC of 0.16, while refusing a lawful request to provide a breath sample will set an offender back at least $2,000.

The definition of impaired driving will change as well. Currently, drivers are considered impaired if they have a BAC of more than 0.08. Under the new law, a driver will be considered impaired at a BAC of 0.08. There are also new standards of impaired driving involving drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs — for example, a driver with a BAC of 0.05 and a THC concentration of 2.5 nanograms will be considered legally impaired.

In an email, Yukon RCMP spokesperson Coralee Reid said that there were 745 impaired driving violations recorded across the territory in 2017, with 509 of those recorded in Whitehorse. So far this year, there have been 675 violations territory-wide, with 461 in Whitehorse.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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