New Penalties for Drug-Impaired Driving in Ontario

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

On October 2, new penalties came into effect for drug-impaired driving in Ontario. These new sanctions are part of the province’s Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act, passed in 2015, and introduce immediate consequences for drug-impaired drivers that are similar to those that are already in place for drivers impaired by alcohol.

New Sanctions for Drug-Impaired Driving

Under the new changes, drivers impaired by drug use face the following consequences:

  • A $180 fine;
  • An immediate 3-day license suspension for the first occurrence; 7-day license suspension for the second occurrence; 30-day suspension for third and subsequent occurrences;
  • A possible 90-day license suspension and 7-day vehicle impoundment depending on drug testing at police station;
  • Mandatory education or treatment programs;
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device on vehicles for drivers with two or more license suspensions related to alcohol or drug in a 10-year period.

This is in addition to existing impaired-related criminal charges, which can result in jail time, loss of a driver’s license, and additional fines.

The intention of these new penalties is twofold. First and foremost, the penalties are intended to deter drivers impaired by drugs from going on the road. Secondly, the penalties are also intended to immediately take away an impaired person’s right to drive if they do go on the road and are caught.

What Does this Mean in Practice?

As Canada prepares to legalize marijuana, driving high has emerged as one of the biggest hurdles confronting the federal government’s task force on marijuana legalization.

At the same time, charging drivers who are high will be challenging. Unlike a Breathalyzer test for alcohol, there currently is no comparable cheap and reliable test for measuring THC or other drug content in blood. For instance, existing tests can reveal the presence of THC, but they do not establish how recently it was smoked as it may linger up to 12 hours after the person who smoked it felt any effect. The other option is using costly, invasive, and legally questionable blood tests. However, even if a blood sample comes back positive, there is currently no legally established limit for THC content as there is for alcohol.

Some clarity may be coming with respect to what will be needed to successfully convict someone of drug-impaired driving. The Supreme Court of Canada will soon be hearing the appeal of Carson Bingley. While driving in 2009, Bingley’s car crossed the centre line of a busy Ottawa street barely missing oncoming traffic and forcing other drivers out of the way. He then pulled into a parking lot and hit another car. Two separate drivers contacted police, suspecting Bingley of impaired driving. At the police station, Bingley admitted to smoking marijuana. The SCC’s decision will provide much-needed guidance on what kind of testimony will be admissible in a drug-impaired trial. The outcome of this decision will have an impact on criminal charges for drug-impaired driving.

Until further clarity is established, Ontario drivers should be aware of the new penalties that are already in place in the province.

If you are facing impaired driving charges, contact our office online or at 905-404-1947 to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled Oshawa lawyers. We have 24-hour phone service for your convenience. Trust our experienced lawyers to handle your defence with diligence and expertise.