Police now have greater power to demand breath samples

WELLINGTON CTY. – New legislation granting police greater power to demand a breath sample from Canadian drivers is now in effect.

Passed by Parliament in June and in effect as of Dec. 18, the new law authorizes law enforcement to demand a roadside sample from any lawfully stopped driver.

“Previously an officer needed to have a reasonable suspicion of the driver having alcohol in their body,” explained Wellington County OPP media officer Josh Cunningham.

Reasonable suspicion could include an odour of alcohol on the breath as well as other signs of impairment and/or admitting to alcohol consumption.

“The new legislation does not require a reasonable suspicion of alcohol in the body and leaps straight to testing drivers so long as the officer has justified reason to stop the vehicle,” Cunningham stated in an email to the Advertiser.

He added RIDE programs and stopping a vehicle to check documentation are “considered legal reasons to engage a driver who has not already believed to have committed an offence.”

The OPP laid more than 7,300 impaired driving charges across the province between Jan. 1 and mid-November.

Under the new legislation, as of Dec. 18, drivers impaired by alcohol will also face more strict penalties.

They include a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offence of having a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 80-119mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in one’s system. The fines escalate to correspond with BAC: $1,500 for 120-159mg and $2,000 for a BAC over 160mg.

Those refusing to provide a breath sample will receive a mandatory minimum fine of $2,000 for the first offence.

For second offences, drivers will face a mandatory minimum of 30 days in prison, while third and subsequent offences will result in a minimum of 120 days  in prison.

Federal officials note impaired driving is one of the most litigated areas of the Canadian Criminal Code.

“The new legal framework will increase deterrence and the detection of impaired drivers, and simplify the investigation and proof of the impaired driving offences, resulting in shorter trials and reduced delays,” states a government press release announcing the changes.

The breath sample changes are part of a larger bill that also aims to strengthen drug-impaired driving laws.

“Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada,” stated Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

“Mandatory alcohol screening will save lives in our country, as it has in Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and other countries. Impaired driving is 100% preventable – don’t put yourself and others in danger by drinking and driving.”

Bill Blair, minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, added, “Giving law enforcement the ability to demand a breath sample from anyone following a lawful stop will make it easier to detect impaired drivers and get these drivers off of our roads.

“Those who get behind the wheel after using … alcohol and drugs, will face serious legal consequences. Do your part … and don’t mix alcohol or drugs with driving.”