SCC upholds B.C. tough drunk driving laws

A gavel, keys and a glass of alcohol.
A gavel, keys and a glass of alcohol. Stock photo by Getty Images

A grieving mother and father. A family in shambles.

That is what alleged drunk driver Marco Muzzo left behind in Vaughan, Ont. on September 27, 2015 when he plowed into a vehicle that carried six members of the Neville and Neville-Lake family: three children, their grandfather, grandmother and great-grandmother.

The only survivors were the grandmother and great-grandmother.

Maybe this horrific accident was in the back of the Supreme Court of Canada’s mind when they came out with their decisions in the case Goodwin v. British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles) and Wilson v. British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles) on October 16, 2015.

The cases upheld tough drunk driving penalties imposed by the province of British Columbia. Overall, the ruling upholds provincial rights to enforce strong drunk driving laws.

Both cases look at B.C.’s regulation scheme, the Automatic Roadside Prohibition scheme, which was created in 2010. This regulation saw the province enforce roadside analysis of driver’s breaths with an Approved Screening Device.

If the driver fails the reading or refuses to take a breathalyzer test, then he or she faces a penalty of a 90-day license suspension. Then there is also a “warn” reading that results in a shorter license suspension – usually anywhere between three to 30 days.

In Goodwin, the ARP scheme was challenged on a constitutional basis. The arguments were that the ARP:

  1. Oversteps provincial legislative capabilities and trespasses on federal jurisdiction; and
  2. Breaches the Charter of Rights, namely s. 8 and s. 11(d) - which are the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure section and the presumption of innocence section respectively.

The court rejected both arguments. As to the first argument, the court said that it’s not the ARP scheme’s intention to overstep on federal jurisdiction. Rather, the scheme aims to prevent death and serious injuries by suspending drunk driver’s license and deterring impaired driving.

In fact, the court praised B.C.’s effort to “stem the tide of drunk-driving related incidents in the province.” The court also noted that the APR is part of British Columbia’s Motor Vehicle Act - which is the regulatory system that maintains the terms and conditions of driver licensing in the province.

In terms of the second argument, the court stated that if allowed by a reasonable law and implemented in a reasonable way, “the state may intrude on the privacy interests of the individual.”

In Wilson, the SCC begins by saying “Impaired driving is a matter of grave concern in Canada.” Wilson challenged the APR on an administrative basis.

S. 215.41(3.1) of the British Columbia Motor Vehicles Act says that when a driver has failed a breathalyzer test, a peace officer has to issue a Notice of Driving Prohibition as long as she “has reasonable grounds to believe, as a result of the analysis, that the driver’s ability to drive is affected by alcohol.”

Wilson argued that “reasonable” meant the results of the ASD test is not enough, that there had to be additional confirmatory evidence that the driver was impaired. The SCC rejected this argument.

Indeed, it makes sense that the SCC uphold the public’s safety over individual’s rights in these cases –as long as done reasonably and following proper procedure – given the number of drunk driving incidents and fatalities occurring across the country.

The September 27 fatal Vaughan crash isn’t the only one that has recently occurred in Canada. There was a deadly crash, caused by alleged impaired driving in Edmonton over the Thanksgiving weekend and two Western University students were killed two weeks ago by an alleged drunk driver.

MADD Canada estimates that between 1250 to 1500 people are killed each year, and more than 63,000 people are injured each year, due to drunk driving accidents. That means 4 people die and 175 are injured every single day.

Maybe the question is not why B.C.’s impaired driving regulations are so tough on drunk drivers and whether they overstep, but rather why other province’s regulations aren’t as tough.

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