On April 21, 2009 the Ontario Road Safety Act (RSA) passed through final reading creating a host of changes that will come into effect in the coming months. The government's executive summary of the act is available at http://ogov.newswire.ca/ontario/GPOE/2009/04/21/c3780.html?lmatch=&lang=_e.html for anyone who wishes to peruse it.
As one might expect, the RSA is overflowing with 'get tough on crime' language and continues the predictable tradition now enshrined in Canadian law to increase penalties for impaired driving offences at every opportunity. Where the RSA strikes bold new ground is in its fiendishly clever solution to the pesky problem of people who have the audacity to proclaim their innocence in the face of a criminal charge. You see, up until now, no matter how draconian the penalties for impaired driving became, an individual charged with a crime always had the annoying opportunity to contest that charge in a court of law where – gasp – they were at times acquitted of the charges.
The RSA fixes that problem by simply eliminating the out-dated foolishly liberal concept of charging someone before convicting them. Under the new provisions, individuals who register blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) under the legal limit but within the "warn" range of 0.05-0.08 will be subjected to a $150 "administrative monetary penalty" and an automatic 3-day licence suspension. Get caught again in the warn range within 5 years and you get a 7-day suspension, another monetary penalty and are ordered to attend mandatory alcohol counselling. Feeling lucky? For a 3rd "warning", you will earn a 30 day suspension, the usual monetary penalty, another round of alcohol counselling and a mandatory 6-month ignition interlock condition tacked onto your licence. This condition requires you to hook up a mobile breath-testing device to your car (after your 30 day suspension is up) and only operate a vehicle equipped that way for the next 6 months.
If you missed the part about these penalties being imposed "upon conviction" don't panic — there's no reason to get your eyes checked. The RSA allows for the imposition of these conditions immediately at the roadside without resort to "technicalities" like trials or due process. Why overburden a criminal system already sagging under the weight of too many trials with more cases when you can just impose criminal consequences without all the trouble of a trial?
If you recognized the image at the top of this post as Sylvester Stallone in the 1995 sci-fi flick, Judge Dredd, then you can probably already hear in your mind his throaty cry of "I am the law!" In Dredd's dystopian future, society has descended into a level of lawlessness that necessitated a somewhat different "get tough on crime" approach than what we in Canada might be used to. Judges, courts, prosecutors and trials are all replaced by a single entity – the Judge – who prowls the streets in a flying police car searching for evil-doers. Once our Judge has his target, an arrest is made and a summary 'trial' takes place with the help of his robotic assistant. Sentence is imposed immediately. There are no appeals.
If the thought of a police officer pulling you over and, with the help of his "robotic assistant" (the Alcotest GLC roadside breathalyser), and conducting a summary trial from which there is no appeal, disturbs you…well, welcome to New Ontario. Stallone's career has been stalling of late. Maybe an application to the Toronto Police Service is just what he needs to get back in the game.