Canadians could be forced to submit to random roadside breath tests at a police officer’s demand under a proposal for new legislation.
The idea is contained within a host of other proposed changes to impaired driving legislation, including tougher penalties and changes to several existing laws.
The Department of Justice is inviting the public to respond to the proposals before any legislation is crafted.
The proposal came from the House of Commons justice committee, where local member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber sits as a member.
Rathgeber said these changes are serious, important and he is confident they will be controversial.
“This is a very, very precarious balancing act in terms of providing laws that enhance safe streets and curb the damage of impaired driving.”
Under existing law, a police officer must have a reasonable suspicion someone is impaired before demanding a roadside test. Officers form this suspicion by observing driving patterns or by looking for signs such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, odours of alcohol or other factors.
Even at a Checkstop, police can’t demand a driver provide a roadside sample if they don’t have reason to suspect the driver has been drinking.
Rathgeber said his mind isn’t made up and he is unsure Canadians will be willing to provide police with this kind of power.
“Generally speaking the police go after people who are offside of the law, but this type of activity, this roadside screening by definition is going to involve more innocent people than guilty,” he said. “Canadians need to think about their comfort level with that type of policing power.”
Local defence lawyer Rory Ziv said he doesn’t think the law would ever survive a constitutional challenge.
The law would clearly violate people’s rights against arbitrary detention and unreasonable search he said, and the courts would not see a clear greater good in violating those rights.
“In the past the government has attempted to justify these types of laws by pointing to reduction in instances of impaired driving or traffic offences, but there is no evidence to support that.”
Ziv said the laws have tightened considerably over the years, but impaired driving hasn’t gone away and there is no reason to believe this would be the magic bullet.
“Rates of impaired driving have continued to increase so I don’t think the government could show the justification to be otherwise.”
Anyone wanting to comment on the legislation can email ID-consultation-FA@justice.gc.ca by April 30.