Oakville, Ontario – MADD Canada is urging the Senate to restore mandatory alcohol screening to Bill C-46, after the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs voted to remove it from the proposed federal legislation last week.
Bill C-46: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts was introduced in the House of Commons in the spring of 2017. Among other things, it would establish driving limits for cannabis and other drugs, authorize the use of roadside drug testing devices, and provide for mandatory alcohol screening of drivers who had been lawfully stopped by the police. The Bill passed third reading in the House of Commons in the fall of 2017 and it was referred to the Senate for review.
In a letter to Senators, MADD Canada representatives expressed concern about the Committee’s removal of mandatory alcohol screening, despite more than four decades of international research showing it to be the single most effective means of reducing impaired driving deaths. “The Committee has made a serious error in removing mandatory alcohol screening, because it is by far the most important traffic safety measure in the Bill” said Robert Solomon, Distinguished University Professor, Faculty of Law, Western University and National Director of Legal Policy, MADD Canada.
Despite countless education campaigns and the enactment of potentially severe sanctions, millions of Canadians continue to drink and drive. Impairment-related crashes remain one of the country’s leading criminal causes of death, resulting in approximately 1,000 deaths and 60,000 injuries a year, a disproportionate number of which occur among teenagers and young adults.
In fact, Canada has long had one of the poorest impaired driving records among comparable countries. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Canada had the highest percentage of alcohol involvement in crash deaths among 20 high-income countries in 2013, even though it has one of the lowest rates of alcohol consumption. Canadians drink considerably less than residents of many other countries and yet are much more likely to die in an alcohol-related crash.
The laws in these countries have done a far better job of separating drinking and driving. Not surprisingly, almost all of these countries have comprehensive mandatory alcohol screening programs. In its 2015 Global Status Report on Road Safety, the World Health Organization stated that 121 out of 180 countries had mandatory alcohol screening programs of some kind. MADD Canada estimates that mandatory alcohol screening would reduce impaired driving in Canada by approximately 20%, saving some 200 lives and preventing 12,000 injuries each year.
The Senate Committee voted to remove mandatory alcohol screening over concerns that it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Alcohol screening, like most new criminal laws, will be challenged” said Professor Solomon. “However, alcohol screening must be put in the context of other accepted screening procedures. Millions of Canadians are routinely subject to mandatory searches of their belongings and person at Canadian airports, borders, courts, and other government facilities. The Canadian courts have never held these mandatory screening procedures to violate the Charter.”
Alcohol-related crashes pose a far greater risk to Canadians than attacks at our airports, borders or courts. Mandatory alcohol screening is less intrusive, inconvenient and stigmatizing than many of these other screening procedures, operates in the same way and serves the same protective purposes. Given that the courts have upheld the constitutionality of these other screening procedures, there is no principled basis for reaching the opposite conclusion regarding mandatory alcohol screening.
For an analysis of the constitutionality issues, please see: MADD Canada’s article “Why Mandatory Roadside Breath Screening?” and the legal opinion of Dr. Peter Hogg, Canada’s leading constitutional law scholar.
“MADD Canada has championed mandatory alcohol screening in Canada for many years because it is the most effective way of reducing impaired driving crash deaths,” Professor Solomon said. “If Canada wants to significantly reduce these tragic and senseless crashes occurring daily on our roads, we need to enact mandatory alcohol screening.”
For more information:
Robert Solomon, Distinguished University Professor, Faculty of Law, Western University and National Director of Legal Policy, MADD Canada, Tel: 519-661-3603 or firstname.lastname@example.org