Ruling puts accused drunk drivers back on the road
Hundreds of people who lost their licences after failing roadside breathalyzer tests are getting their permits back after a B.C. judge tossed out part of the province's tough law against drinking and driving.
Last week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson ruled that the immediate 90-day driving suspensions issued to drivers who register a blood alcohol level above .08 constitute an infringement of drivers' Charter rights.
Lawyer Paul Doroshenko says he's filed reams of petitions to the court since the decision was handed down, on behalf of people who want their driving bans and $500 administrative penalties lifted on an interim basis.
"In most of the cases, if we can meet the legal test, we get the driving prohibition suspended," he told CTV News.
"I would imagine hundreds of people have had their ban lifted by now.... We've probably got well over 100 now in our office -- maybe a couple hundred, conservatively."
This week, he received a letter from the Ministry of the Attorney General referring to Sigurdson's decision and stating that, "until the order is finalized…. we are instructed to consent to interim stays [of driving prohibitions] until January 31, 2012."
Doroshenko said the judge was right to strike down part of the law, which has been called the toughest in Canada.
"My biggest concern with this legislation is relying on roadside breath testers and the honesty of police when you can't assess their honesty," he said.
Premier Christy Clark says that lifting driving bans imposed on suspected drunk drivers is "not what anybody wants."
She says the government is studying the judge's ruling and will re-write the legislation to comply with the decision.
"I think the spirit of what the government was trying to do was the right one: try and save lives," she said.
Doroshenko acknowledges that the court decision last week could put people who shouldn't be driving back on the road, but says the province should have done a better job in drafting the legislation.
"I think it was a gross miscalculation on behalf of the government," he said.
From Oct. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011, B.C. police served more than 23,300 roadside prohibitions and impounded more than 20,000 drunk drivers' vehicles.
Accused drunk drivers have also been forced to pay fines, towing fees and the costs 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.
Doroshenko says that he has filed numerous Access to Information requests with police departments across the province, and has serious concerns about how officers are using their roadside breath-testers.
In Vancouver, for example, "You can see that a lot of the devices give readings they shouldn't be giving when they test them for calibration," Doroshenko said.
"Sometimes they grossly inflate the reading that should be reflected on the unit."
And in Port Moody, traffic officers are sometimes using the same solution to analyze breathalyzer results for up to 50 tests, when it is only meant to be used for a maximum of 16.
In his decision last week, Sigurdson ruled the law's 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.
With files from CTV British Columbia's Mi-Jung Lee. Watch CTV News at 6 p.m. on Dec. 8 for a full report.