Ruling won’t handcuff police

Court concludes B.C.'s new impaired driving penalties infringe on constitutional rights

Although a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the most severe of B.C.’s new impaired driving penalties infringe on people’s constitutional right to a fair trial, don’t expect to see less enforcement.

“It is still a criminal offence, that hasn’t changed,” said Sgt. Harold Hallett of the South Okanagan Traffic Services. “If a person is over the 0.08, that is when it will be reverting back to the pre-IRP days — the same as it was for decades.”

Justice Jon Sigurdson ruled this week that Increased Roadside Penalties, or IRP, for blowing in the “warn” range, from 0.05 to 0.08 per cent of blood alcohol, are permissible. But drivers who blow in the “fail” range above 0.08 should have a chance to challenge the decision if their vehicles are impounded for 30 to 90 days and they face thousands of dollars in administrative penalties. The most costly of these penalties is the enrolment in the responsible driver program and the use of an ignition interlock device for one year, which together total over $2,600. Drivers also face a $500 fine and another $700 for towing and storage.

Sigurdson did not immediately strike down the new penalties, but asked for submissions from the province and the driver who challenged the penalties to determine what comes next.

This will have no effect on the upcoming South Okanagan Traffic Services’ annual holiday CounterAttack program.

“Those have all been scheduled and will still happen,” said Hallett.

Since the introduction of the IRP, there has been a 40 per cent reduction in fatalities attributed to impaired driving.

“We don’t want the fatal rate to go back up to 45 deaths. There are 45 people walking around B.C. today that wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for the IRP, that is a lot,” said Hallett.

Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond said police won’t be imposing the IRP until they give accused drivers a way to appeal results of a failed breath test.

“Obviously, we are going to take the time to study the decision in depth so we can determine specific next steps and impacts. Government will, however, make a change to the Motor Vehicle Act to address the judge’s concerns. The ability to challenge the approved screening device reading will be added to the current grounds for appeal,” said Bond.

Bond said it’s important to note that the IRP remains in place for those who blow in the warn range. Drivers who fall in that range can receive a three-day driving ban, a $200 administrative penalty and another $250 fee to have a driver’s licence reinstated. Drivers may also have their car impounded for three days and be billed for towing and storage.

Peter Lepine, president of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, said the ruling will result in significant changes to the IRP and he will be working with the solicitor general to have police officers’ concerns heard.

“The goal of any sworn police officer, whether they work for a municipal police department or the RCMP, is to keep the public safe, and the bottom line for police at all levels in this province has always been that the Immediate Roadside Prohibition program saved lives,” said Lepine.