Case challenged automatic driving bans, car impoundments for those who blow over .08 on screening device
B.C.’s 2010 laws of handing out automatic roadside prohibitions to drivers who test over the legal limit for alcohol were weakened by a second Supreme Court of Canada decision today.
The laws, which have already been updated by the province, were deemed unbalanced as they were first written in 2010.
B.C.’s Justice Minister lauded the decision saying it upheld most of the provincial laws.
“Our government believes strongly in our immediate roadside prohibition law. and we know it saves lives — 260 since September 2010,” said B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton. ” I’m pleased to see the court agreed wtih our argument in the Wilson case and with the majority of our argument in the Goodwin case.”
Legal experts saw it differently, saying the case does not uphold the 2010 law, and leaves even the revised laws up for attack.
“The province’s objective was a valid objective, but it needed to be balanced by Charter rights,” said Shea Coulson, a lawyer who argued automatic roadside prohibitions were onconstitutional.
“The court’s biggest concern was that the device used by police was unreliable,” added Shea, who predicts that today’s ruling will lead to more challenges of even the current B.C. drunk-driving laws.
Canada’s top court ruled that B.C.’s 2010 law is within the provincial jurisdiction and does not amount to a presumption of guilt over innocence , but flies in the face of search and seizure provisions of the Charter, because of the unreliability of breath test devices, according to Coulson.
The ruling says that the provincial laws “does not minimally impair the right of a driver to be free of unreasonable search and seizure,” said all justices except one dissenting in the reasons for judgement.
So people who do take road side breath tests and register a “fail” may choose to challenge the laws more often.
Coulson says the ruling also calls for more oversight of police in these cases.
This does not apply if a driver simply refuses to take the test and will not blow into the road side device.
Two rulings released Friday are well-balanced, added Coulson.
“It establishes a common standard for removing drivers from the road who pose an elevated risk to others. It also serves to deter drunk driving,” said the ruling in the case of Lee Michael Wilson, released in Ottawa Friday.
In November 2014, Canada’s highest court agreed to hear two cases involving B.C. drivers who were stopped by police at roadside checks. The case was heard in Canada’s highest court in May 2015.
In one case a man got a warning after blowing into a roadside screening device.
Wilson received a three-day driving ban in September 2012 after the roadside device registered a blood-alcohol level in the warning range.
He took the issue to B.C. Supreme Court, which dismissed the roadside prohibition, saying there was no evidence indicating Wilson’s ability to drive was affected by alcohol.
But the B.C. Court of Appeal later overturned the lower court’s ruling.
The other case involves James Goodwin and four other B.C. drivers who either refused to give a breath sample or registered a fail on a roadside screening device.
They challenged the province’s automatic roadside prohibitions for those who blow over .08 on a screening device.
In James Goodwin’s case, court records say he did not provide a “suitable” breath sample after a stop in 2011.
Goodwin was prohibited from driving for 90 days and his vehicle was impounded for 30 days.
In Goodwin’s case the court ruled that search and seizure tests were met and the officers actions were reasonable.
“The ultimate question is whether the review provisions of the roadside suspension scheme offer reasonable protection against abusive exercise of the state power to intrude on the individual’s private sphere, having regard to the nature of the scheme and the privacy interests at stake. In my view, the answer to this question is yes,” said C.J. McLachlin.