There are now new laws to help police crack down on impaired driving for those who get high before getting behind the wheel.
The federal government’s new law, that gives police new powers to perform roadside screening tests and establish new serious criminal offences for driving under the influence – with blood-drug levels equal or higher than permitted – received Royal Assent yesterday.
Bill C-46, the new Impaired Driving Act under the Criminal Code, is directly connected with the Liberal government’s legalization of recreational marijuana, which also gained Royal Assent this week.
However, it is anticipated that it will take several months for police departments across the country to learn, train, and adapt to their new policies and tools to combat driving impairment.
These are the four main changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws by Bill C-46:
Police will no longer require reasonable suspicion to suspect a driver is under the influence of alcohol.
Previously, police performing roadside checkpoints could only force a breath test if there is the smell of alcohol on a driver’s breath, slurred beach, inability to focus, or other signs of impairment. Alcohol cans and bottles seen inside the car would also grant police the authority to perform a test.
Police officers now have the ability to use roadside saliva tests that screen saliva for drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and the THC from marijuana. But unlike alcohol breath tests, these saliva tests cannot be random – a level of reasonable suspicion is still required to force the test on suspected drug-impaired drivers.
Drivers caught with THC blood levels equal or higher than the federal government’s established threshold are subject to fines and criminal charges:
But these threshold levels have been controversial, with critics calling efforts to quantify impairment not only arbitrary but “junk science.”
“With alcohol, we can say a person is impaired when they reach a certain level,” criminal defence lawyer Sarah Leamon previously told Daily Hive. “A person doesn’t have to be displaying that they’re impaired; if they have that amount of alcohol in their bloodstream then they are.”
Leamon added that there “is no correlation between levels of THC in system and impairment,” a concern that is echoed by Dr. Tony George, a researcher at CAMH and professor at the University of Toronto.
Dr. George said that one of the issues with reliable roadside testing is that people develop a tolerance to cannabis, and of equal concern is that you can test positive for THC even if you’re sober.
THC is fat soluble and therefore stays in your body for much longer than alcohol, which can dissipate in hours.
Dangerous impaired-driving is now considered a “serious criminality” instead of “ordinary criminality,” and the maximum sentence for imprisonment has been raised from five years to 10 years.
This new elevation of the serious nature of impaired driving could potentially affect permanent residents or foreign nationals, as Section 36.1 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that such individuals are inadmissible to Canada if they are convicted of an offence that is deemed “serious criminality.”
If convicted, these individuals could lose permanent residence status and face deportation.