The Criminal Code penalties have increased during my career from a minimum $50 fine and a three month driving prohibition to a minimum fine of $1,000 and a one year driving prohibition. On the provincial side the sanctions have developed to the point where currently in the case of a first offence where the blood alcohol level exceeds 160 mg or the breath test is refused the offender’s car is impounded immediately for 30 days and the driver’s licence is suspended for 90 days, and upon conviction the licence is suspended for 3 years. For subsequent offences the penalties get much worse!
Both the criminal law and the technology available to combat impaired driving have evolved steadily over the years. While the federal Criminal Code is the primary means of dealing with the problem it must be borne in mind that the courts have recognized the provinces’ jurisdiction to enact legislation in this field as part of their power to regulate highway traffic safety.
The offence of operating or having care and control of a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs has existed since not long after the use of automobiles became prevalent in the last century but the lack of effective technology made it difficult to enforce. Public awareness of the extent of the harm caused by such conduct was also slow to develop, with the result that until relatively recently even when the offence could be prosecuted successfully the penalties were quite mild and indeed almost inconsequential. Thus, even today one of the first questions clients frequently ask is whether a restricted driver’s licence for work purposes is available. In fact, the answer is a resounding “no” but only dating back to the first year of my career change from prosecutor to defence attorney.