Police key into holiday safety blitz

Court ruling temporarily reinstates roadside penalties as RCMP step up enforcement for New Year's Eve

Const. Ryan Mitchell of the Penticton RCMP talks with a vehicle driver during a recent road check. The Counter Attack program continues throughout the holidays and New Year’s revellers are advised to seek alternative means to get home safely.

Const. Ryan Mitchell of the Penticton RCMP talks with a vehicle driver during a recent road check. The Counter Attack program continues throughout the holidays and New Year’s revellers are advised to seek alternative means to get home safely.

An enhanced presence on the region’s roadways will be a priority this weekend for Penticton RCMP.

“We will have an enhanced presence not only for dealing with CounterAttack type initiatives, but we will have an enhanced presence on New Year’s Eve within the communities that we know have special events, such as Apex where we will be out on foot there within the establishments and within the village itself,” said Insp. Brad Haugli.

Even though the courts have temporarily restored the power of B.C. police officers to issue immediate 90-day suspensions to impaired drivers caught with a blood-alcohol level over 0.08, Haugli said the rulings have not posed any challenges to the Penticton detachment.

“Like every other police department, we adapt, and anyone who is failing the device and brought back to the detachment to blow on the Datamaster and fails, they will be charged criminally. We just resort back to what we know,” said Haugli.

The inspector said the Penticton crime analyst will be releasing information in the next few weeks on local analysis conducted on impaired driving in relation to the new Increased Roadside Penalties legislation to see how many people have been apprehended in comparison to the year prior to the IRP. He said having those facts in black and white assist officers in responding appropriately and helps drive home the message to the public to not drink and drive.

“We hope everybody has a safe and enjoyable holiday season and will be extra cautious out there on the roadways. And, don’t drink and drive,” said Haugli.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson, who previously struck down the 90-day suspensions to impaired drivers who are over 0.08 as part of the roadside penalty system, issued a follow-up ruling just before Christmas that suspends the implementation of his decision until June 30. That effectively gives the provincial government six months to pass new legislation to ensure the roadside penalties and process to appeal them comply with the law.

Justice Sigurdson noted the government considers the automatic roadside penalties more effective than criminal prosecutions in fighting impaired driving.

“I have concluded that an immediate declaration of invalidity of part of the (administrative penalty) regime may pose a danger to the public,” he wrote.

For three weeks police have been unable to issue the 90-day suspensions and related penalties and fees that add up to $3,750 for drivers who blow in the “fail” range over 0.08. Instead, officers at roadblocks faced a choice: arrest the driver and administer a breath test at the police station, or else issue only a 24-hour suspension.

To comply with the court rulings, the province must ensure those drivers get a chance to challenge the decision.

“We will work to introduce changes to the Motor Vehicle Act as soon as possible in the spring legislative session,” Solicitor General Shirley Bond said in a statement.

Justice Sigurdson also found 90-day suspensions are constitutional for drivers who refuse to provide a breath sample upon request. He upheld the use of the immediate roadside prohibitions for drivers who blow in the “warn” range between 0.05 and 0.08.

Bond noted the roadside penalties resulted in a 40 per cent drop in alcohol-related deaths in the first year.

“Forty-five more people are alive to enjoy the holidays this year because police stopped impaired drivers, people who would not be with their families today without this legislation,” said Bond.

Sigurdson has yet to rule on whether B.C. drivers who were punished without sufficient right to appeal are entitled to compensation.