In the past three months federal laws on impaired driving have changed significantly, but changes to enforcement haven’t been as extreme as some feared.
On Oct. 17 cannabis was legalized and legislation was added to account for driving while high. Since Dec. 18, stricter laws focusing on drinking and driving were also enacted. These changes include mandatory Breathalyzer compliance, a two-hour window within which people must prove their sobriety, and harsher penalties if found impaired.
On paper, these stricter laws hold potential for abuse; a sober person could theoretically have their driving reported, go home and have a drink, and then have an officer show up at their door to demand a breath test. The onus would then be on them to prove that within two hours before driving they were sober.
Comparatively, testing for THC levels from using cannabis is also hard to determine without a blood test, something most traffic enforcement officers won’t carry or be trained to use.
“It really is a disturbing scheme when altogether,” said Sarah Leamon, a criminal defence lawyer who specializes in impaired driving. “Will it be subject to Charter challenges? Yeah, absolutely.”
That being said, these legal changes have yet to see a large amount of difference on the ground.
According to the Victoria Police Department, since Oct. 17 officers have taken 25 drivers off the road for drug impairment, though it’s not clear if these drugs were cannabis or illicit drugs.
In the same time frame, 91 people were taken off the road due to alcohol impairment, numbers that VicPD spokesperson Const. Matt Rutherford said are not grossly different than usual.
The biggest changes they’ve seen, he added, is in the department’s training.
“We have more people training in both standard field sobriety testing (SFST) and we have more drug recognition experts (DRE) throughout our front line staff,” Rutherford said in an emailed statement.
When asked how police might handle enforcing mandatory breath tests, Rutherford noted that unless it was part of an active situation police are unlikely to go door to door to see if someone has been drinking.
“We’re too busy… we’re not just going to go inside a bar and test people to see if they’ve been driving in the past two hours, ” he said. “The point is to get drunk drivers off the road, and we conduct our rights to do so as the law allows.”
Leamon also noted that she hasn’t seen a significant changes in police enforcement since the laws were enacted, but was still skeptical that any abuse of power wouldn’t happen somewhere in the country.
“I guess we’re trusting the state not to overstep their authority,” Leamon said. “Not that they’ve done that before.”
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