Illustration by Tricia Lim

Perspectives: The carelessness of Canada’s new impaired driving legislation, Bill C-46

Bill C-46 an affront to constitutional rights

By Kayle Van’t Klooster, January 17 2019 —

Canada’s new impaired driving laws are a sloppy piece of legislation. Make no mistake — impaired driving is a terrible crime. Driving while impaired puts innocent lives at risk and tears apart countless families each year. It’s also easily avoidable by planning ahead and taking a cab, Uber or having a designated driver. However, Bill C-46, the federal government’s recent attempt to address the issue, is irresponsible and likely unconstitutional.

Bill C-46 was passed with good intentions. It was supposed to update Canada’s impaired driving laws to address the legalization of recreational cannabis. Unfortunately, the bill does far more to empower police officers than to deal with stoned drivers.

Under the new laws, police can subject drivers to breathalyzer tests at any time, even without reason. This means that a police officer can pull over a driver and administer a breathalyzer test to someone travelling at the speed limit, driving between the lines and doing everything thing else right.

Furthermore, if you blow over the limit and cannot prove that you haven’t been behind the wheel in the past two hours, you are guilty of impaired driving.

Theoretically, you could drive to a friend’s house for a party with the intention of staying the night and start drinking, only to be interrupted by a knock at the door. A police officer who received a tip from a neighbour or maybe saw you leave the liquor store earlier could be there, ready to administer the test. If you blow over the limit, it’s your onus to prove that you weren’t driving two hours ago — or rather, it would be your lawyer’s, since you would almost certainly be detained then and there.

One man from Mississauga has already come forward with what happened to him after he returned his recycling to his local liquor store. After dropping off the empty bottles, a cop pulled him over and administered a breathalyzer test. The officer apparently said that he observed him returning “an excessive amount” of bottles, which in this case was three dozen beer bottles and 10 wine bottles — an unremarkable amount, especially so soon after the holidays. The man initially refused the breathalyzer test, but eventually agreed to it, avoiding the harsh punishments that have been put into place for refusing to take the test.

The allowances set out in Bill C-46 have a noble purpose but go too far. How much do we value our civil liberties and are we are really comfortable with trading them for purportedly safer roads? Safer roads, by the way, are not guaranteed, as harsher punishments do not always result in fewer offenders. In fact, the amount of people sentenced for impaired driving may very well go up — not due to more people driving impaired but because these laws are so flawed.

Under these laws, Canadians are being treated as guilty until proven innocent, which is a fundamental flaw that cannot stand. It should be up to the Crown to prove any wrongdoing has occurred, not up to us to prove that we did nothing wrong. It’s how our justice system has always worked and this piece of legislation clearly goes against precedent.

But why was such careless legislation proposed and passed? This was a law that was obviously meant to shield the Liberal government from attacks from the right concerning the potential for more impaired drivers following the legalization of cannabis — despite the fact that no spike in impaired driving has occurred. Prioritizing politics over practical law-making is irresponsible.

What’s left is a clear affront to our rights. The constitutionality of Bill C-46 will very likely be challenged and will inevitably go to the Supreme Court, where it ought to be struck down as a Charter violation.

Kayle Van’t Klooster is a fourth-year International Relations Major at the University of Calgary. He writes a column for the Gauntlet about Canadian national and international affairs called “For Your Consideration.”


Bill C-46 will empower police at expense of marginalized groups

By Jesse Stilwell, January 23 2018 —

Most people rarely interact with police. When they do, it is usually unremarkable — a deserved speeding ticket, officers at large public events and even checkstops are usually pleasant and unmemorable experiences.

This is arguably what led to the relatively quiet response to Bill C-46, the new legislation that allows police to demand breath samples from people in their homes and in bars. Some people contend that it’s fine to give up some of their freedoms in order for police to prevent crime, like drinking and driving, making it worthwhile legislation. They would rather have to complete a breathalyzer test for no good reason than risk being on the road with impaired drivers. After all, none of their interactions with police have given them any reason to fear.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for all Canadians. Our country has a history of police violence, corruption and abuses of power. Police have treated citizens unfairly, and in some cases, horrifically, in every province. Two Calgary police officers were recently found guilty of corruption related offences after they used their powers to help a man stalk his ex-partner in order to gain custody of their child. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are currently trying to address thousands of in-house sexual harassment claims. In Toronto, analyses of carding practices repeatedly show that black people are more likely to be randomly stopped and checked by police officers than white people. 

This police violence is often racialized. A CBC analysis of fatal police interactions from 2000–2017 found that black and Indigenous people make up a disproportionately greater number of fatal interactions with police in Canada. Being okay with increased police power comes from a place of privilege in never having to fear the abuse of that power.

The increased powers granted to police officers by Bill C-46 will be used to victimize and profile minorities and marginalized groups. It isn’t a question of if, but when a police officer decides to breathalyze someone who’s had a few drinks, with no intention of driving, and charge them with a crime for a reason other than keeping the roads safe. Impaired driving charges have a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000. Revenue generation is the motivation for police to install cameras and sit in tricky speed traps to hand out as many fines as possible. Handing out unwarranted impaired driving charges will bring in money as well. Why wouldn’t they want to charge as many people as possible if it’ll result in a big pay out?

Canadians should be fearful and enraged that our leaders don’t recognize this. Justin Trudeau has repeatedly stated that reconciliation is a national priority, yet his government handed the law enforcement agencies that killed 69 Indigenous men and women since 2000 a new tool to abuse. Being blissfully unaware of the horrors that Canadian police have inflicted on people comes from a place of privilege that needs to be addressed. 

I have no reason to fear police, but other people around me do. That is why I refuse to turn a blind eye to this new legislation. It’s not because I think impaired driving should be tolerated. It’s because I’m afraid that innocent people will have their lives ruined because of a couple bad cops across the country. 

Canadian citizens have won the global lottery by living in a country that respects human rights and has entrenched the rule of law in our institutions. There are billions of people who would trade anything for the chance to be treated fairly by authorities in their home countries. These conditions are fragile and need to be protected fiercely. 

Bill C-46 is inconsistent with our values and puts the people who need Canada’s protection most at risk. It could take years for this law to be overturned by the courts. It should never have been written at all. Every Canadian that has accepted it and believes it is a justified limitation of our freedoms is gravely mistaken. 



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