Big Changes Coming to Canada’s Impaired Driving Laws

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We are all aware that a significant piece of legislation, the Cannabis Act, has become law. This bill will come into force on October 17, 2018 and it will encompass all the rules regarding the control and regulation of how cannabis is grown, distributed and sold.

There is another piece of legislation, Bill C-46, related to the legalization of marijuana that also received royal assent last week. Bill C-46, also known as the Impaired Driving Act, is an overhaul of Canada’s impaired driving laws.

WHAT IS BILL C-46?

Bill C-46 will reform alcohol-impaired driving and drug-impaired driving and police have been given new tools to detect and prosecute drivers.

The bill is comprised of two parts. Part 1 creates three new offences for driving under the influence of various amounts of drugs and stipulates legal limits of such drugs.  This part also requires drivers not to drive within two hours of being over the legal limits and allows police to conduct tests to screen for drugs using “approved drug screening equipment”.

Part 2 of the bill raises the maximum penalty for impaired driving, reclassifies impaired-driving as a “serious criminality” offence and gives police the power to perform mandatory alcohol screening without reasonable grounds to suspect impairment.

The following are the four major changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws as set out in Bill C-46.

Random Roadside Breath Testing

The new legislation will allow police to request a roadside breath test from any driver. They will not need reasonable suspicion that the person has been drinking (i.e. smell of alcohol on a driver’s breath or slurred speech). Those who refuse the roadside breath test will face a criminal conviction with similar penalties to an impaired driving conviction.

Lawyers and civil liberties groups argue that this change in the law violates the Charter protection against unreasonable search. Furthermore, there is concern that this type of practice will disproportionately affect minorities due to racial profiling.

However, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is certain that this directive will survive a court challenge. She referred to mandatory alcohol screening as “minimally intrusive, but the benefits in lives saved will be immeasurable”.

The government equated a mandatory breath sample to the requirement to show a driver’s licence.

Roadside Saliva Testing

The new law would allow police to use roadside screening devices that test saliva for the presence of drugs, including THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis). However, unlike alcohol breath tests, police will need to have a reasonable suspicion before requiring this test.

It is unclear when this type of testing will be used by the police as there are a number of steps that still need to take place. The government has yet to approve the devices to be used by the police. Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould will then have to make a ministerial order to approve the devices after a 30-day public consultation. Finally, the devices will need to be purchased and officers will need to be trained on how to use them.

THC Blood Levels

The new legislation will allow police to lay an impaired driving charge based solely on blood test results for THC in blood without needing to further prove impairment.

The government has proposed “per se levels” based on nanograms per millimeter of blood as follows:

  • A THC level between 2 and 5 ng would be a lower-level offence with a fine of up to $1,000;
  • A THC level above 5 ng would result in the same penalties as an alcohol-impaired driving conviction, including mandatory minimum penalties of a $1,000 fine on a first offence, 30 days imprisonment on a second offence and 120 days imprisonment on a third offence;
  • A mixture of a THC level above 2.5 ng and a blood alcohol concentration above 50 mg per 100 mL would have the same penalties as above.

10 Years Maximum Sentence for Impaired Driving

Under Bill C-46, impaired driving convictions will be considered “serious criminality” offences and the maximum sentence will be raised from 5 years to 10 years. This change in the law will greater affect those that could potentially lose permanent residence status and face deportation (i.e. foreign students, workers, visitors and permanent residents).

WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATUS OF BILL-46?

Part 1 of the Impaired Driving Act will roll out this summer; however, Part 2 of the bill will not come into force for another 180 days. In the meantime, as the bill comes into force we will report on any developments through this blog.

If you have been charged with a driving offence of any kind or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.