Judge strikes down part of B.C.'s tough drunk driving law
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has declared part of the province's year-old drunk driving law unconstitutional for being too harsh and lacking a "meaningful review process" for drivers to contest their guilt.
In a decision released Wednesday, Justice Jon Sigurdson ruled the severity of the costs and driving suspensions associated with registering a blood alcohol level of .08 go too far without offering proper recourse for alleged impaired drivers.
"Because of the significant prohibition, penalty and cost implications of a ‘fail' reading, the province could easily have provided in the legislation a reasonable and meaningful review process where a driver… could challenge the results," Sigurdson wrote.
Sigurdson struck down that portion of the legislation, ruling that it constitutes an infringement of drivers' Charter rights that is not "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."
B.C. Solicitor General Shirley Bond said the government is "very pleased" with the judge's decision because it upholds the bulk of the province's drunk driving regime.
"We have to add the criteria that allows a person to challenge the specific reading on the [breathalyzer] device. That's the fix that's required," she said.
Bond promised that the law will be amended as soon possible when the legislature reopens in the spring, and that drunk drivers still face serious penalties in the interim.
The solicitor general said drivers who blow over .08 will now be charged under the Criminal Code, and can still face a 90-day driving prohibition.
"I want to make one thing perfectly clear," Bond said. "[The ruling] does not mean that if you decide to drink and drive and blow .08 or above that you will not face consequences… Until I make the legislative fix that's required, you face potentially criminal charges."
B.C.'s law, enacted through amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act, has been called the toughest in Canada for giving police the power to issue immediate 90-day driving bans and impound drivers' vehicles.
Accused drunk drivers have also been forced to pay fines, towing fees and the cost of mandatory driver education and an ignition locking device at an estimated combined cost of between $600 and $4,060.
Drivers who refused to take the test faced the same heavy punishments.
Sigurdson ruled the less-severe fines, driving prohibitions and penalties associated with blowing in the blood alcohol warning range between .05 and .08 are also unconstitutional, but justified.
Lawyer Michael Shapray said Wednesday's decision could have a major impact on drivers waiting to contest their penalties, but should mean little to those who have already suffered through them.
"People who have already served their penalties, or are in the process of having their year with an interlock likely won't be able to do much," Shapray said. "Laws get struck down all the time and it doesn't retroactively change what happened in the past, necessarily."
Sigurdson's ruling comes one week after the provincial government celebrated the results of the tough new law, touting a 40 per cent decrease in alcohol-related driving deaths in the one year since they were enacted.
From Oct. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011 there were 68 alcohol-related driving deaths in the province – 45 fewer than B.C.'s five-year average of 113.
During that period, police served more than 23,300 roadside prohibitions and impounded more than 20,000 alleged drunk drivers' vehicles.