Sometimes it actually hurts to be right.
If you’ve followed any of my earlier comments on twitter, in the media, or in this space on Slaw (Ontario’s New Road Safety Act) you will be familiar with my growing predictions that Canada is moving towards legalized random breath alcohol testing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the timeline for such a draconian measure would be a mere six months.
Yet, today’s National Post (Sunday October 4, 2009) is reporting that the Federal Department of Justice is considering exactly such an amendment.
As you weigh the pros and cons of allowing police the authority to take this extreme step, you will no doubt consider the very real dangers posed by the menace of impaired drivers on our roads. Having said that, it is important to understand fully what is now being proposed. The current RIDE programs and Highway Traffic Act provisions we are familiar with allow an officer to detain your vehicle for a matter of minutes. During that time the officer will ask you some basic questions, shine a flashlight in your face to get a read on your eyes, and lean into your open window to take a whiff of any alcohol-laden breath. In those short moments the officer will either come to a belief that you have consumed alcohol and make a lawful demand for you to provide a breath sample, or send you happily on you way (often with a coupon book for 0% alcohol beer tucked happily into your glove compartment).
If the Department of Justice proceeds with the trial balloon now being floated, officers could dispense with the chit chat and simply demand that any and all drivers submit to a roadside breath test. This is a considerably more invasive and time-consuming procedure requiring you to park your car, exit the vehicle and provide a suitable breath sample into a hand-held measurement device. Fail that and it’s off to the station with you — this time chauffeured behind an inch of shatter-proof glass while handcuffed in the rear of a police cruiser.
Lest you be thinking that the roadside test is merely a ‘screen’ with no consequences for those who don’t fail it, I remind you of the recent introduction in Ontario of the Road Safety Act. The RSA, as explained in detail in my earlier Slaw post, allows your licence to be suspended on the spot even without having failed the test if you blow within the “warn” range. This suspension cannot be appealed and there is no trial.
So, to recap, Ontario drivers may soon be pulled over without cause, detained and required to submit to a roadside breath test considered too inaccurate to be admissible in a court of law, resulting in the administrative suspension of their licence, and the entire process is not subject to trial or appeal. I can’t argue with the serious threat posed by impaired drivers on our roadways, but at what point do we ask — is the treatment worse than the disease?