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.