Canadian police can now demand breath samples from people in bars, at home, or anywhere they please, under a Kafkaesque new law aimed at curbing drunk driving that upends the idea of “innocent until proven guilty.”
The draconian new law forces Canadians to prove they weren’t drunk when they were driving – even if they were driving two hours ago, or have been falsely accused of driving, had only started drinking when they arrived at their destination, or any of an infinity of other scenarios.
“Failure to provide a sample” – refusing the test – is a crime that comes with a one-year license suspension and a large fine, plus a criminal record.
The changes to Section 253 of the Criminal Code were applied in December but went almost completely unnoticed in the shadow of another measure that allows police to demand a breath sample without even a “reasonable suspicion” that a driver is impaired. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association protested that the law would unfairly affect minorities, who already comprise a disproportionate number of traffic stops.
While Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould admits she has “every expectation” the law will be challenged in court, she claims its intent – to save lives – is an “incredibly justifiable purpose.” But challenging a law takes years, and meanwhile the law has the potential to victimize drivers who have committed no crime.
“It’s basically criminalizing you having a drink at your kitchen table,” criminal defense lawyer Paul Doroshenko told Global News, adding that it would be nearly impossible for someone drinking in a public place to prove they were sober when they had driven there, and under the new law they would most certainly be arrested. “It is profoundly stupid, so most people assume it can’t be. But that’s what the law is now, you will see it happen – I guarantee it.”
As if the situation weren’t appalling enough, research has shown that many drivers legally classifiable as “drunk” are not detected using the breath-test technology, which frequently gives false readings.
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