Oakville, Ontario – MADD Canada is calling on Canada’s newly-elected government to take effective and timely action to reduce the deadly toll of impaired driving in Canada.
“MADD Canada congratulates Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada on their election, and welcomes the opportunity to work with them, and all elected Members of Parliament, on meaningful legislation to address the very serious impaired driving problem that we have in this country,” said MADD Canada Chief Executive Officer Andrew Murie.
Impaired driving continues to be the leading criminal cause of death in Canada, claiming almost twice as many lives per year as all categories of homicide combined. In 2010, the latest year for which national statistics are available, impairment-related crashes were estimated to have killed almost 1,100 Canadians, injured another 63,000 and generated total social costs of approximately $20.6 billion.
Millions of Canadians continue to drink and drive with little fear of being stopped and tested, let alone charged and convicted. Canada has fallen far behind other countries with respect to tools and technology to detect, apprehend and prosecute alcohol and drug-impaired drivers.
As a lead organization in the research and analysis of best practices in impaired driving countermeasures, and a voice for victims of this violent crime, MADD Canada urges the federal government to incorporate the following recommendations and measures into a comprehensive legislative reform to better prevent and reduce impaired driving and protect the Canadian public.
- Passive Alcohol Sensors
The great majority of drinking drivers go undetected at sobriety checkpoints. These low testing rates are not the fault of police. Rather, the problem relates to two factors. First, police must rely on their own unaided senses to establish sufficient grounds to demand a breath test (a strong odour of alcohol on the driver’s breath, clear behavioural or physical signs of alcohol consumption, etc.). These signs may be difficult to detect in the brief time that motorists are stopped at checkpoints, and experienced drinkers may be able to conceal signs of intoxication. Second, even if detected, many impaired drivers escape criminal liability because courts often demand a standard of proof that is inconsistent with Criminal Code standards and give little weight to police evidence. For example, some courts have held that an admission of alcohol consumption and the odour of alcohol on the driver’s breath does not constitute reasonable suspicion that the driver had alcohol in his or her body.
MADD Canada urges the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to expressly authorize police to use passive alcohol sensors. These small, hand-held devices detect the presence and approximate amount of alcohol in a driver’s exhaled breath through the ambient air near his or her mouth. Passive alcohol sensors provide an easy, reliable and non-intrusive way to efficiently screen large numbers of drivers with minimal delays. The end result is an increase in the effectiveness, detection rates and deterrent value of sobriety checkpoints. To learn more about passive alcohol sensors, please see: Passive Alcohol Sensors: A Reasonable Canadian Compromise.
- Mandatory Post-Crash Testing
Canadians may be shocked to know that the overwhelming majority of those who drink, drive and kill or injure someone escape liability altogether, or are convicted of a lesser offence. Of the estimated 1,082 impairment-related traffic fatalities in 2010, only 125 charges of impaired driving causing death were laid and only 48 convictions recorded. This occurs because police are unable to obtain breath or blood samples from hospitalized impaired driving suspects. Without evidence of the suspect’s blood alcohol concentration, there are rarely sufficient grounds to lay an impaired driving charge, let alone obtain a conviction. Similar challenges arise with impaired driving suspects who are unconscious or otherwise incapable of responding to a police demand for a breath sample. Past amendments to the Criminal Code attempted to address part of this problem but have resulted in little improvement.
In June 2015, the previous federal government proposed Bill C-73, the Dangerous and Impaired Driving Act. The Bill was introduced just days before Parliament ended, and died on the order papers. Nevertheless, it contained an important provision stating that a driver’s involvement in a crash resulting in death or bodily harm constitutes reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver has alcohol in his or her body. The police would then be authorized to demand that a driver provide a breath sample. Bill C-73 would also have made it easier for the police to obtain blood samples from hospitalized impaired driving suspects. MADD Canada supports this provision and urges the new federal government to not only include it in new impaired driving legislation, but to extend the measure to all crashes, not only those resulting in death or injury. For more information on mandatory post- crash testing, please see: Post-Crash Testing of Impaired Driving Suspects, MADD Canada, 2015
- Improved Sentencing
Key among the provisions in Bill C-73 was the creation of a mandatory minimum sentence of six years imprisonment for impaired driving causing death. The proposed mandatory minimum raised challenging issues for MADD Canada because it would carry both positive and negative consequences. The potential benefit is that it would address the understandable sense of injustice felt by many victims of impaired driving and their families. However, the potential negative consequences are significant and must be considered. There is a very real risk that the minimum sentence would become the default sentence in all but the worst cases. This would not be a problem if the minimum sentence was six years, because it far exceeds the average length of sentences being seen now. However, if the mandatory minimum is set lower than that, sentences could begin to drop lower than the average being seen today. Additionally, a six-year minimum sentence would: discourage police and prosecutors from laying charges for impaired driving causing death; encourage those charged with the offence to plead not guilty; increase pressure on prosecutors to plea bargain for lesser charges; and result in more trials. All of this would result in a drop in Canada’s already low charge and conviction rate for impaired driving causing death. Finally, a six-year minimum sentence for impaired driving causing death will almost certainly be struck down under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court would rely on the fact that a six year mandatory minimum sentence in all impaired driving causing death cases, regardless of the offender’s BAC level, criminal record, and other factors, is out of line with mandatory minimum sentences in other serious Criminal Code offences.
For these reasons, MADD Canada recommends the minimum sentencing for impaired driving causing death provision be dropped from future legislation. For more information on sentencing for impaired driving, please see: Memorandum on Mandatory Minimum Sentences.
- Oral Fluid Testing for Drugs
Canada’s current system for detecting, charging and prosecuting drug-impaired drivers is not working. Very few drug-impaired driving charges are being laid, despite the fact that drug-impaired driving is becoming an increasingly larger part of the overall impaired driving problem. In 2012, just 1.9% of all impaired driving charges were for drugs. That’s just 1,126 out of nearly 60,000 total charges.
The technology to conduct simple, inexpensive roadside oral fluid or saliva tests to detect drugs – similar to the way the breathalyzer device detects alcohol – is already available. It has been adopted in several Australian states and Western European countries where it has proven to be effective and cost efficient. MADD Canada recommends the establishment of drug limits for the most commonly-used illicit drugs, and the introduction of road-side saliva testing for drugs. To learn more on oral fluid testing for drugs, please see: Canada’s New Drug-Impaired Driving Law: The Need to Consider Other Approaches.
MADD Canada also supports measures proposed in Bill C-73 that would have limited technical defences and closed legal loopholes which routinely help impaired drivers escape prosecution, and encourages the federal government to include these provisions in future legislation.
“The deaths and injuries caused by impaired driving are entirely preventable,” said Mr. Murie. “Tools and laws are available to reduce the terrible tragedies that take place on Canadian roads every single day. We need federal leadership to acknowledge the problem and implement measures that will make a real and meaningful difference.”
For more information, please contact:
Andrew Murie, MADD Canada Chief Executive Officer at 1-800-665-6233 ext. 224 or email@example.com