Proponents felt it was a great idea at the time and would provide a significant deterrent.
Unfortunately, the proposal was doomed from the beginning and now things are back where it all began with very little change in between.
Back in 2012, the provincial Conservative government amended the law dealing with impaired driving to immediately yank the licence of any driver charged or refusing to provide a breath sample and not give it back until the case had been dealt with.
However, with the backlog of cases in provincial court, anyone that challenged the case wound up waiting up to 12 months without a licence — about the same length of suspension as most first time convictions receive. Previously, a driver who was charged could get the licence back after a short suspension if they challenged the case in court.
Well, it wasn’t long before a constitutional challenge was launched arguing the change amounted to eliminating the presumption of innocence by leveling a penalty before the case could be judged.
Now, the Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled — in a 2-1 split decision — that the change infringes on the rights of the accused were essentially trampled upon and even may have forced some to plead guilty, even if they felt innocent, simply so they could get their licence back sooner.
Having been involved with emergency services and covered criminal court cases for decades, I have some very strong feelings toward those that decide they will be okay to drive impaired. I’ve witnessed the effects first hand along with the consequences for both the accused, the victims and others.
Being a responsible individual means making the proper choices if you are going to drink — be it not drinking to excess or by finding an alternative, safe way home. Or else, you must accept the consequences of making a different choice.
That being said, the principle rule of law — the presumption of innocence — must be adhered to and the decision last week by the current Alberta government to not appeal the latest ruling is the proper course to follow.
Even though only around 20 per cent of those charged during the past five years were found to be not guilty — sometimes there is a difference between that and being innocent — that figure was far too high to ignore for the two justices that sided against the government.
In fact, the pair determined that those few individuals served longer licence suspensions before their trials even began than most drivers who plead guilty right away, considering the fact many were able to apply for ignition-interlock programs within three to six months.
Another fact to note is that alcohol-related driving deaths, since the 2012 change, has increased slightly in Alberta. If the law was meant to deter and change people’s behaviour, that statistic definitely shows it hasn’t worked.
Sure, there have been and will likely continue to be people that are indeed guilty that work the system to hang onto their licence for as long as possible. And yes, there is a definite need to get impaired drivers off the roads, but there has to be other, better ways to achieve that goal.
One suggestion has already come from the federal government — lowering the blood alcohol level to 0.05 per cent — though it remains to be seen if that will be the solution.
Ultimately I believe, it will take people doing the responsible thing and making a conscious effort to change behaviour before the problem will start to be addressed.
But that is…just an observation.