Supreme Court allows for continued tough drunk driving laws

Photo via Wikimedia
Photo via Wikimedia

Previous laws upheld, but with limits

By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor

A case brought forth by six BC drivers ended with little result on October 16, when the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled that BC’s tough stance on drinking and driving was justified. However, the case did not end without any amendments, as the SCC suggested that more oversight and accountability toward the police was need.

Lee Wilson, Richard Goodwin, and four other drivers brought the case to the Supreme Court late last year, where it was approved. The case was heard by the SCC in May.

Wilson was banned from driving for three days in 2012 after a breathalyzer placed him in a warning range, while Goodwin received a 90-day prohibition from driving—along with a 30-day vehicle impoundment—after failing a 0.8 breathalyser roadside test in 2011. The other four drivers involved also failed roadside tests.

“The province’s objective was a valid objective, but it needed to be balanced by charter rights,” said lawyer Shea Coulson to CBC. “The court’s biggest concern was that the device used by police was unreliable.”

Coulson argued in the case that it was unconstitutional for police to give out automatic restrictions during roadside tests.

The plaintiffs argued that the punishments enforced by the province were like criminal charges in disguise, which is an area that is not the province’s responsibility, but the federal government’s. As well, they argued that they felt denied to the right of presumption of innocence.

The SCC disagreed, ruling that the BC government is right in its choice to impose strict penalties toward drunk drivers.

“The ultimate question is whether the review provisions of the roadside suspension scheme offer reasonable protection against abusive exercise of the state power to intrude on the individual’s private sphere, having regard to the nature of the scheme and the privacy interests at stake,” said SCC Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin to CBC. “In my view, the answer to this question is yes.”

Still, the SCC agreed that more ways to challenge roadside prohibitions were necessary. Actions toward better accountability of law enforcement were made back in 2012, when BC made amendments to its pre-existing drunk driving laws following a similar case at the BC Supreme Court. The amendments allowed for increased appeals, including the opportunity to take another breathalyzer test administered by a different officer.

Some, including Coulston, believe that the SCC ruling will open the gates for other provinces to enforce their own tough drunk driving laws.

“You’ll probably see that kind of toughness being rolled out in the other provinces now,” Coulston said to the Globe and Mail.

BC’s drunk driving laws have been shown to have saved the lives of 260 people since their inception in 2010.