The province of Alberta introduced changes to its impaired driving laws late last year. Under this new legislation, police will give first-time impaired driving offenders stiff fines instead of a criminal court trial. The province believes that the new impaired driving laws will take some of the pressure off of overworked police and Court systems. However, what lawmakers aren’t taking into account is the potential risk to Canadians’ presumption of innocence.

Impaired Driving in Canada

Impaired driving is when a driver operates a motor vehicle with any level of impairment as including but not limited to redness of eyes, motor skills, coordination, stumbling, slurred speech, etc. Many Canadian drivers understand that they are prohibited from driving with more than 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood in the body. However, many drivers do not know that this type of offence is called a “per se” offence and is different from driving while impaired. Drivers can have a BAC under 80 mg% and be considered impaired. 

Impaired driving laws protect the lives of drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians. MADD Canada estimates that impairment-related crashes kill between 1,250 and 1,500 Canadians and injure more than 63,000 every year. Lawmakers enact strict laws to save the lives of thousands of drivers. The penalties vary across the country, but most countries treat the offence seriously. 

Many Canadians view receiving a DUI as a less serious matter. Not only is a DUI a serious offence, but it is also, in fact, a criminal offence. The Criminal Code of Canada outlines impaired driving fines and prohibitions. The penalties depend on the alcohol or drug concentration, whether it’s a first or repeated offence. Alberta’s new impaired driving laws will change the process of receiving a charge for first offenders.

Alberta’s New Impaired Driving Laws

The UCP government implemented legislative changes in relation to Bill 21. This legislation not only changed penalizations for impaired drivers and the process of a roadside stop. First-time offenders will receive an immediate $1,000 fine, a license suspension, a 30-day vehicle seizure, and mandatory impaired driving education. The goal is to keep first-time offenders within the provincial transportation system and allow police officers to spend more time patrolling. Rather than waiting months for a court date, offenders will receive a QR code that will allow them to log in to Alberta’s Safe Roads Systems and address their file immediately.

The Threat To Presumption of Innocence

Section 11 (d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that “any person charged with an offence has the right to of presumption of innocence until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.” 

Criminal defence lawyers worry that the change of legislation will pose a threat to Canadians’ presumption of innocence. The right to a fair trial is central to Canada’s democracy. People who are accused of a crime have the right to fight their case in court. However, under Alberta’s new legislation, there would be no day in a traditional court. The accusused can instead set up an appointment with an adjudicator on the phone, skipping the court altogether.

Although there need to be strict laws in place to protect Canadians safety, legislators also need to ensure that Canadians’ rights are also protected. Where do we draw the line? A balancing act that is vital for the preservation of our democracy and the presumption of innocence.

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