Alberta won’t appeal ruling on impaired driving law, will make changes: minister
EDMONTON — The Alberta government will not appeal a ruling that struck down part of its impaired driving legislation allowing police to suspend the licences of suspected drunk drivers.
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley says the government will instead bring forward new legislation after talking to interested parties.
The Alberta Court of Appeal ruled in May that taking away the licences of drivers who have not yet been found guilty in court violates their charter rights and presumption of innocence.
An appeal by four individuals had noted that drivers waiting to be tried on impaired charges have had to do without a licence for many months because of a backlog in the courts.
“The defendants in the case argued that suspending their licences until the case gets resolved results in innocent people pleading guilty just to get their licence back,” Ganley said Wednesday.
“The court decision stated that drivers may be induced to surrender their constitutional right to the presumption of innocence. Our government has decided we will not be appealing this decision.”
She said the province will look at models already in place in other provinces such as British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
“We are still looking at administrative sanction models because I think the evidence is very good that those are the best at improving traffic safety and preventing collisions and deaths.”
The Appeal Court ruling put everything on hold for a year, so police officers are still able to suspend licences until next May.
The British Columbia government also faced a challenge to its drunk-driving law after it was brought in. It imposes heavy fines, penalties and immediate roadside suspensions.
But the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a pair of judgments in October 2015 that upheld key portions of the law.
It ruled for one that the law as it stood in 2010 did not violate an individual’s charter right to the presumption of innocence. However, a majority of the court said the law violated the charter protection against unlawful search and seizure.
By the time the Supreme Court made its ruling, B.C. had already amended its law to address that point by allowing drivers who failed a roadside breath test to ask for a second test and to apply for a review of their driving prohibition.
Ganley said it made more sense to simply change Alberta’s legislation.
“There were potential legal risks in terms of whether or not the model would be supported.” she said.
“The Supreme Court has supported B.C.’s model which obviously doesn’t go quite as far and specifically doesn’t involve the suspension of the licence ... pending trial.”
The CEO of MADD Canada, an anti-drunk-driving group, said the Alberta government made the right decision.
Andrew Murie pointed out other parts of the province’s legislation were upheld.
He also said the province now has the chance to consider adopting the B.C. model.
“Rather than punish you, they focus on rehabilitation. They impound your vehicle for 30 days ... and you have to take a remedial program. You have to put an interlock on your car. Those are constant reminders of what you’ve done,” Murie said.
“They’re immediate. They happen right away.”
- Bill Graveland
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