Vancouver lawyers testing breathalyzers for flaws, accuracy
Published Monday, March 25, 2019 4:42PM PDT
Last Updated Monday, March 25, 2019 7:13PM PDT
A Vancouver law firm says it wants to test the accuracy of breathalyzers used in B.C. police stations by conducting experiments on the same model of machine, which they recently bought and imported from the States.
Defence lawyers with Acumen Law brought 150 such devices across the border over the weekend. Originally from Illinois, the Intox ECIR models were marked as surplus and sold by a third party. Now the firm intends to examine them for potential flaws.
“Our goal is to test them to determine what interfering substances can cause false readings,” said lawyer Kyla Lee. “In particular, we’re concerned about people who work in professions where they’re around a lot of chemicals.”
Lee said they also want to check for defects that may prevent people from giving a proper sample, which could possibly lead to a refusal charge.
“There’s a real lack of research available because of the prohibition on defence lawyers and other independent scientists from obtaining these instruments,” Lee said, adding that Acumen had tried to acquire the devices from the manufacturer, distributor and other sellers, but was told there was an agreement with the RCMP that “these were for law enforcement purposes only.”
The head of Mothers against Drunk Driving Canada said as long as the device is calibrated properly, there should be no issue with the reading. The charity’s CEO, Andrew Murie, called the move by the law firm “a shameless plug."
“It’s a gimmick, in my opinion. I think people should be assured when they’re actually charged with a crime that the test that they’re getting is accurate,” Murie said, and noted defence lawyers can still request records from police and crown to see if the machines are working properly.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said he has confidence in the current system.
“Lawyers have their particular interest. Our interest is ensuring that the roads in this province are kept free of drinking and (driving) as much as possible,” Farnworth said.
The federal justice department told CTV in an email all breathalyzers are evaluated by an independent body. Spokesperson Angela Savard said the government has always relied on the advice of the Alcohol Test Committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science.
“The ATC’s evaluation standards must be satisfied before a model of instrument is recommended to the Attorney General of Canada for approval,” Savard said. “The standards include testing for potential interferents, such as acetone, methanol and isopropanol.”
Lee said the evaluators are “working for the goals of government and they’re working for one particular side."
She added any testing conducted by Acumen will have to replicated by experts before it can be used in court.