Supreme Court rules on tough British Columbia impaired driving law

The Supreme Court of Canada (Wikimedia Commons).

OTTAWA — The Supreme of Canada has affirmed British Columbia's tough drunk-driving law, which imposes heavy fines, penalties and immediate roadside suspensions.

The high court handed down a pair of judgments Friday, a 6-1 decision and a unanimous 7-0 ruling, that uphold key portions of the law.

It ruled the province had the jurisdiction to enact the law in 2010 and that it did not violate the charter protection of the presumption of innocence.

However, a majority of the court said the law violated the charter prohibition against unlawful search and seizure.

In 2012, B.C. amended the law to deal with that issue, allowing drivers who failed a roadside breath test to ask for a second test and apply for a review of their driving prohibition.

Today's Supreme Court ruling deals only with law as it stood in 2010.

Justice Andromache Karakatsanis, writing for the majority, said the roadside screening scheme was "valid provincial legislation" and the presumption of innocence protection was not at play because "the provincial regime does not create an 'offence.'"

However, Karakatsanis upheld the original trial judge's finding that the law "as it was constituted from September 2010 to June 2012" violated the charter provisions against unreasonable search and seizure.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin dissented on that point, saying there was nothing "constitutionally unreasonable" about the search provisions of the original law.

"The state's purpose – to prevent death and serious injury on the highway from impaired driving – is important and capable of justifying intrusion into the private sphere of the individual's bodily substances."

The province amended the law in 2012 to deal to deal with that issue.

The motorists in this case had the support of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which argued that their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty was being violated by the imposition of automatic penalties.

Another intervener, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada,supported B.C.'s law, saying it "falls squarely within the province's legislative competence."

Mike Blanchfield

The Canadian Press

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