Column: Mandatory Breath Testing for Drug Impaired Driving

Goldstream Gazette

The new impaired driving legislation in the House of Commons aims to punish drug impaired driving but also, more controversially, update the current alcohol impaired driving laws. The NDP has long stood for effective measures to stop impaired driving; we need to focus on smarter deterrents to actually prevent these tragedies.


Impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada.         With one of the worst impaired driving records in the OECD, we need a public awareness campaign that is effective and well-funded.


Some of the issues in the bill, however, are worrisome. This bill removes the need for police to have reasonable suspicion in order to request breath samples for alcohol.


Civil liberties groups and members of the legal community have raised doubts about its constitutionality and concerns about the potential for targeting marginalized groups. Police would have the authority to request a breath sample despite not having any signs of danger.


Random and mandatory breath tests for alcohol screening could be challenged under S. 8 (the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure) and/or S. 9 (the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. S. 1 of the Charter provides for reasonable limits to these rights as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.


The Supreme Court has been wrestling with this issue for many years, and although there has been openness to allowing random breath testing, a strong minority has stated that there are many issues with this policy.


The minority decision in the 1990 R v. Ladouceur case stated that the power to stop people for no reason could be based on any whim.  Some police officers may stop younger drivers or older cars and racial considerations may also be a factor. The police would not have to give a reason, so there is no way we can ever know for sure why someone was stopped.


We will be inviting experts in civil liberties across the legal community to the Justice and Human Rights committee to ensure that this legislation gets the scrutiny that it deserves This issue requires the scrutiny of non-partisan  constitutional experts. Laws need to respect and protect Canadians’ civil liberties and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


(Printed in the Goldstream Gazette, May 15, 2017)