In late 2018, the federal government introduced broad new changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws. Bill C-46 is the first significant change to the country’s impaired driving laws in more than 40 years, and was introduced as a result of the introduction of cannabis legalization in October 2018.
The biggest changes are the broad new powers given to police officers at roadside stops. Under the previous legislation, police needed to have reasonable suspicion that a driver was impaired before requesting a breathalyzer test. Under the new laws, police can request a breathalyzer sample from anyone pulled over. Any driver who refuses to provide a breath sample can be charged criminally or face a license suspension.
As well, police are now allowed to administer breathalyzer tests to people who aren’t even driving. Under Bill C-46, officers are allowed to request breath samples from someone up to two hours after that person has stopped driving. It is now illegal to be at or over the legal alcohol limit within that two-hour time period of being behind the wheel. Many lawyers have raised alarm over this part of the bill, which could result in breathalyzer tests being administered in bars, restaurants and even homes.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has expressed concerns about possible baseless searches affecting minority groups.
Under the Criminal Code, it’s an offence to drive with more than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.
The new law also brings updated penalties for anyone found driving impaired:
- First offence, with blood-alcohol content of 80-119 mg: mandatory minimum $1,000 fine;
- First offence, with blood-alcohol content of 120-159 mg: mandatory minimum $1,500 fine;
- First offence, with blood alcohol content of 160 mg or more: mandatory minimum $2,500 fine;
- First offence, but refuse to be tested: mandatory minimum $2,000 fine;
- Second offence: mandatory minimum 30 days imprisonment;
- Third or greater offence: mandatory minimum 120 days imprisonment;
- Maximum penalties for impaired driving causing no bodily harm or death: a summary conviction carries two years less a day imprisonment, an indictment carries up to 10 years in prison;
- Maximum penalties for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death: a summary conviction carries two years less a day imprisonment, an indictment carries up to 14 years in prison;
- Maximum penalty for impaired driving causing death: life in prison.