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3 Changes to the Impaired Driving Laws in Canada

Bill C-46 has just received Royal Assent and there are new laws that apply to both alcohol-impaired driving and drug-impaired driving. The bill also made technical changes that will help the courts deal with impaired driving cases much more quickly. Police officers will also have access to new tools and detection devices to aid them in charging impaired drivers. The reformed Bill focuses on three major changes: THC levels in your blood, roadside breath testing without reasonable suspicion, and roadside saliva testing. Lets take a look at what each of these will mean for drivers.

THC Levels in Your Blood

For quite sometime authorities have been able to lay an impaired driving charge based on your blood alcohol level. Officers will now be able to do the same for THC. This new change has been controversial for two main reasons:

The Science

The science behind THC is much weaker than alcohol when it comes to linking THC levels in your blood leading to impairment versus your blood alcohol level leading to impairment. It has also been documented that THC remains in your system longer than alcohol but the affects are not still present. Regardless, the bill has been reformed and the THC levels in your blood have been set through the new regulations. The proposed levels, based on nanograms per millilitre of blood, are detailed below:

  • A THC level between 2 ng and 5 ng would be considered a lower-level offence with a fine up to $1,000
  • A THC level above 5 ng would come with the same penalties as an alcohol-impaired driving conviction, including mandatory minimum penalties of a $1,000 fine on a first offence, 30 days imprisonment on a second offence, and 120 days imprisonment on a third offence
  • A combintion of a THC level above 2.5 ng and a blood alcohol concentration above 50 mg per 100 mL would have the same penalties as above

Medical Marijuana Patients

Another challenge arises when you look at medical marijuana patients who are placed on a prescription. Based on the proposed levels above, consuming even small amounts of cannabis shortly before driving could put a person over these limits. Defence lawyers will be busy arguing this topic, yet the government has stated that until the science improves it is taking a zero tolerance approach.

Roadside Breath Testing Without Reasonable Suspicion

Police, as of December 2018, will be able to perform a roadside breath test for any driver. In the past an officer would need to have reasonable suspicion to perform the breath test but that has been changed. Drivers who are required to take the Breathalyzer test but refuse will face a criminal charge with similar penalties to an impaired driving conviction.

Of course this has sparked a good deal of controversy. It is argued that this violates the Charter’s protection against unreasonable searches and may also give way to racial profiling or disproportionately affecting minorities.

Roadside Saliva Testing

Unlike the roadside breath testing above, police officers will need reasonable suspicion before demanding a saliva test. This roadside device can be used to test saliva for the presence of THC, cocaine, methamphetamine and more. If traces of any of these are found drug-impaired driving charges will apply, plus additional chargers depending on the substance.

Even though this portion of the new reform applies immediately, it is unlikely that these tests will be seen on Canadian roads as there are still a number of steps that need to completed. Devices are still being tested to ensure accuracy and other components and there is no timeline for the completion of these tests. After the testing is finished the officers will need to be trained on them and they must go through a 30-day public consultation before they can be approved for use. This means it could be closer to the end of 2018 before they become available.

Conclusion

These changes may seem controversial but they are designed to keep our roads safe. It is important to be responsible when using alcohol or drugs and if you are using them do not get behind the wheel or a vehicle. In today’s world there are too many easy alternatives to get where you need to go, such as public transportation, taxis, friends and family, or ride sharing programs such as Uber.

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