In Canada, it is a criminal offence to drive with a blood alcohol level greater than 0.08. Persons charged and convicted receive a criminal record for this offence and a minimum $1000 fine and 1-year driving prohibition.
The Federal government is now considering lowering the legal limit in the Criminal Code to 0.05, meaning those drivers caught driving with more than this level of alcohol in their blood could be charged criminally, and if convicted face a minimum of a $1000 fine and 1-year driving prohibition.
Putting aside any debate as to whether new laws would actually reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road, there are a number of practical realities to this proposal.
Canadian courts are already backlogged with cases. In Provincial Courts, the vast majority of criminal cases that proceed to trial (as opposed to pleading guilty and resolving without a trial) are impaired driving / ‘over 80’ cases. Lowering the legal limit to 0.05 means the police will catch and charge more people; more cases will fill an already over-flowing court system; and more court delays will follow. Without the governments (Federal and Provincial) also applying more resources (i.e. money) in the form of prosecutors; judges; clerks and other court staff. Creating more criminal laws will result in more delays in an already over-burdened court system.
Even without changing the Criminal laws, many provinces, including Alberta, also have Provincial legislation dealing with drinking and driving – while not involving criminal convictions, the provincial laws can impose driving suspensions and vehicle seizures.
In Alberta, any driver caught driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 or more will have to immediately surrender his drivers’ licence to the police and will immediately receive a suspension of that driver’s licence. In the case of a first-time violation, the driving suspension will be for 3 days; a 15-day suspension follows a 2nd time violation; and 30 days’ for subsequent violations. After more than 1 suspension, the driver will be required to complete a mandatory educational program and will be subject to terms and conditions on his licence. Even if the blood alcohol levels are not over 0.05, in Alberta, police can issue 24-hour driving suspensions where the officer suspected a driver has consumed alcohol or a drug in such a quantity as to affect the driver’s ability to drive. When novice drivers have any amount of alcohol in their body, police in Alberta can suspend drivers’ licences for 30 days.
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The police are entitled to talk to people and ask people to identify themselves during their general duties. There is no law that stops the police from trying to engage people in conversations.
Citizens are under no legal obligation to answer police questions or even to give their names to the police just because the police ask for identity. Except for certain situations, it is not against the law to not give your name to the police.
If the police tell you that you are under arrest or under ‘investigative detention’ for an offence – you must identify yourself to the police. If you refuse, you can be arrested for ‘obstruction of justice’.
If you are driving a vehicle, and the police stop a vehicle, you must provide your identification and vehicle documentation to the police.
In Alberta, if you are a passenger in a car, the police cannot demand your identification unless the police officer observes the passenger is violating part of the Traffic Safety Act (e.g. not wearing a seatbelt), or violating a Municipal by-law. If you are a pedestrian on the street, the police may demand your identification if you are ‘acting in a manner contrary’ to the Traffic Safety Act or a bylaw.
In short – the police can approach people and talk to people. In most cases, there is no obligation on members of the public to talk to the police or answer their questions. If you have been involved in a car accident, or otherwise in a traffic stop by police, or if you are being detained or arrested, you must give your name to the police.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, chances are you’ll need to hire a criminal defence lawyer to defend you. There is nothing wrong with setting up interviews with a couple of different lawyers. If you’ve never been charged with a crime before, you might not know what questions to ask.
When you go to meet with the lawyers, be prepared. Bring with you whatever paperwork you’ve received from the police or at the courthouse. These documents will typically include: your bail paperwork; any documents showing your next court date; and perhaps some or all of the police report or other evidence the police / Prosecutor will intend to use against you.
Most likely, you will want to know how much it will cost to hire the lawyer to defend you. Most likely, the lawyer won’t be able to give you a precise fee quote at the first meeting. Many lawyers will ask you to pay an initial retainer (perhaps in the range of $2000 – $5000); and will later be able to quote a final fee once they know how complicated and time consuming your defence will be. Some lawyers might provide you with an estimate of a range of fees in that first.
Many criminal defence lawyers will not bill by an hourly rate; but will instead quote you a flat fee for representing you. Make sure you understand the fee agreement and what is included.
When interviewing criminal defence lawyers, you might want to ask:
If you are not a Canadian citizen, make sure you share this information with the lawyers, as there may be immigration consequences following convictions for some offences.
After interviewing 2 or 3 criminal defence lawyers, you will need to decide and hire one of them. Do not simply gravitate towards the one with the lowest fees if you’re worried about money; do not gravitate towards the most expensive, thinking ‘bigger is better’… instead, consider their levels of experience; consider how well they explained the criminal process to you and their strategies for representing you; and most importantly, consider with whom you felt the most comfortable and confident in handling your defence.
Later this week, the Federal Government will reveal its much-anticipated pot legislation – the first step towards legalizing the possession and sale of marihuana in Canada.
With the final laws still to be determined, it appears the Government plans to legalize possession of marihuana, up to a weight of 30 grams; and to allow individual households to grow up to 4 plants. Other details expected in the proposed plan include:
At the present time, there is no roadside screening or detecting device for police to use in Canada to detect the presence of cannabis in drivers. As part of the new legalization of pot, the police will need the ability to determine the presence of pot, and the levels of cannabis present, in drivers immediately on the side of the road – similar to a ‘check stop’ program – without having to take the time of obtaining blood samples and waiting for lab test results.
For now the possession, production and sale of marihuana in Canada remains illegal. The Federal Government hopes to have the new laws in place by July 1, 2018.
The sections of the Criminal Code that prohibit impaired driving of vehicles on our roadways also apply to impaired operation of aircraft.
On December 31, 2016, the pilot of a plane set to take off from Calgary was removed from the plane after passing out in the cockpit. His blood alcohol levels exceeded three times the legal limit to operate a vehicle, or aircraft. In addition to the co-pilot and other flight crew, there were approximately 100 passengers on board.
Last month, the pilot pleaded guilty to having ‘care and control of an aircraft while intoxicated.’ The Crown sought 1 year jail; defence sought a 3-6 month jail sentence. Today, a judge imposed a sentence of 8 months’ jail – one of the few cases of its type in Canadian law.
Marihuana may be legal in Canada by July 1 of next year, 2018. In the next few weeks, the Federal Government will begin to roll out the legislation that will make that happen.
Early reports suggest the Federal Government will set the legal age for the use of marihuana at 18 years old; but will allow the Provinces to increase the legal age within each province. Just as the legal age for drinking alcohol is different from province to province, the age for the legal purchase and use of pot may differ from province to province.
Each of the Provincial Governments will be able to decide how and where marihuana will be bought and sold; and at what price. Similar to the way in which Provincial Governments currently control how alcohol is bought and sold. The Federal Government will be in charge of licencing pot producers.
How much money with the Federal and Provincial Governments make from the sale of legal pot? Will the police be ready to adapt to these changes in the laws? Some insight can be gained by looking south of the border, to Colorado – a US State that legalized pot over 4 years ago.
Overall, the legalized system in Colorado appears to have worked well. They have not seen a spike in teenage use of marihuana; they have not seen an abuse of edible products; and have not seen a real increase in marihuana consumption that some feared might happen with legalization. The people that did not use marihuana before legalization, continue to not use marihuana after legalization; those that used illegal pot, continue to use marihuana, now in its legalized form.
In the third year, the legalized marihuana industry in Colorado was worth a billion dollars. The challenges have surrounded how to create the legal framework, from scratch: knowing how to regulate the edible marihuana products was one issue – making sure the THC content in those products was not too high; and not allowing those products to look like candies, or otherwise be too attractive to young people
For now, the production, possession and distribution of marihuana continues to be illegal in Canada; the laws have not changed yet. As we move forward with the anticipated legalization, expected challenges may include how to tax legal pot at the appropriate rate to minimize an ongoing black market for pot; and how to deal with public safety issues – keeping pot out of the hands of young people; giving police the proper tools to deal with drivers impaired by marihuana.