Impaired drivers in the province of New Brunswick are about to face stricter penalties for their decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. Amendments to the regions Motor Vehicle Act come into effect November 1st and will make the province one of the strictest in Canada when it comes to driving under the influence. These amendments come at a time when rates of impaired driving are decreasing in the province, exemplifying that the governments will not tolerate this behavior.
The new legislation includes:
- an increase in licence reinstatement fees,
- the creation of a vehicle impoundment program for impaired drivers, the creation of a mandatory alcohol ignition interlock device program, and
- a new power for police to invoke a 24-hour roadside suspension for driver unfitness, and a new authority for police to temporarily remove drivers from the road.
Under these amendments, police will now have the power to impound a driver’s vehicle for up to two months, and suspensions will now remain on record for ten years (as opposed to seven under the old laws).
“If you drink and drive, you will face severe penalties. Your car may be seized. You may be arrested, charged, and sent to jail. On top of that your insurance premiums may increase dramatically.”
These amendments may pose interesting civil liberties issues, even though enacted to enhance public safety. One concern is an infringement on an individuals right to be free from arbitrary detention. Under the New legislation, police officers will now have the discretion to suspend a driver for 24 hours if they have any concerns about his or her safety. This power is broad, and the requirements of ‘safety concerns’ remain ambiguous. A person may, therefore, be subject to a 24-hour suspension without breaking the law.
Under s. 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms police have the power to pull suspected impaired drivers over and randomly stop vehicles for spot-checks. Courts have ruled that these stops do constitute a detention within the meaning of s.9. Courts have also held that discretion is arbitrary if there are no criteria (express or implied) exists to govern its exercise. The ambiguous definition of ‘public safety’ may push this power over the line of arbitrariness protected against by The Charter. Being stranded for 24-hours without committing an offence within the definition of impaired driving may result in future charter challenges for these new amendments.
Another new power under these amendments concerns the impounding of vehicles. Current law in New Brunswick mandates drivers who have a blood alcohol in the range of .05 to .08 lose their license for 24 hours and forces them to park their vehicles overnight. Under the new legislation, drivers in this zone will find their licenses suspended for seven days, with cars subject to impoundment for the length of this suspension. A driver can, therefore, lose their car for a week even though they did not commit an impaired driving offence pursuant to the Criminal Code. It is important to note that even though The Charter does not protect property rights, The Canadian Bill of Rights remains good law in Canada and provides the right to “security of the person and enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of the law”(emphasis added). One would imagine that a deprivation following the due process of the law would necessitate committing a criminal offence.
All rights in Canada are subject to such “reasonable limits prescribed by law that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” (emphasis added). Considering the severe damage that impaired driving causes communities across this nation, the infringements on civil liberties stemming from these amendments may be reasonably necessary to rid Canadian society of the ravages of impaired driving. It will be interesting to see if the new standard for responsible driving in New Brunswick will be able to withstand a constitutional challenge if one ever arises.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.