Impaired driving laws

For the first time in almost six years in Canada, I feel somewhat like as if I was in Russia. And it doesn’t feel good. Changes to federal legislation on impaired driving are to blame for that.

The hair on the back of my neck bristled when I came across the case of a 70-year-old Ontario man, who was checked for drinking and driving due to too many bottles he was returning to the beer store. Like at home once again, I felt tiny and rightless.

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The rules that came into place at the end of 2018 give police authority to randomly pull people over and check for impaired driving by rugs or alcohol. The “reasonable suspicion” component is now gone. Everyone is under the radar.  

Yes, those updates to Canada’s laws at face value are aimed at busting impaired driving. And please, don’t get me wrong; I’m totally on board with keeping the streets safe, I hate to see people dying or getting injured due to drunk driving, and I believe that we should put every reasonable effort into targeting those driving drunk or high. But I also believe that there must be a better way to achieve that.

New laws are calling for an unreasonably high price – the price of human rights. For a long time Canada worked hard on its human rights’ profile, and now the government is just giving it up.

Not only can police provide a personal check, which already puts a big dent on the Canadian Charter of Rights that states that "everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure," the new laws also erase personal privacy borders. Police can ask for a breathalyzer sample when you are nowhere around a steering wheel. No matter if you are at home or with friends in the restaurant, at your brother’s house or at work, unless you want to risk your wellbeing you shouldn’t be over .08 within two hours of driving.

This privacy invasion goes against most of the recent Liberal government’s policies and moves. And a refusal to provide a sample would bring in costly fines and possible jail time.

Moreover, according to the updated regulations, we are no longer presumed innocent. If the test made outside of a vehicle comes back positive, it’s up to the person to prove that it wasn’t the case while driving.

The causes are good; there are way too many alcohol-related criminal charges, and the motivation is there, but the measures are out of place. And my previous experience suggests that extreme strictness doesn’t do well.

In my country’s history, analogous right-restricting initiatives conferring power to the law enforcement agencies were within the first steps leading towards the establishment of a police state. And I hate to compare Canada and Russia, since these two state systems are probably further away from each other than the south and north poles, but, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t foresee Canadian legislation making a very Russian-like move and curtailing the rights of Canadians.

Yes, right here right now these regulations may improve numbers and may help detect some drunk drivers, who could get away otherwise. But in the long run, where are we heading? I tend to think about the relationship between even conscientious population and law enforcement structures as like Tom and Jerry: no matter how tricky the cat is, trying to catch the little invader, the mouse always finds its way to get away and outsmarts the cat.

And a barbwire around the mouse hole wouldn’t resolve the problem. It would just take the relationship away from the dialogue and towards confrontation.

It’s been over 25 years, and some people still don’t get the message. Will they change if the rules become tougher, maybe yes, maybe not? And all of us will be paying the price.

The new laws are a step back, which leaves a lot of room for abuse and creates a fruitful environment for “social diseases” such as discrimination. There has to be a better way to battle impaired driving. 

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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