Judge Finds BC’s “Cash Cow” Tough Anti-Drinking Driving Law Unconstitional

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VANCOUVER – The B.C. Supreme Court says the high costs and lengthy roadside suspensions imposed on some drivers who fail a blood-alcohol test are unconstitutional. The laws have become a cash cow for the BC Liberal government that brought them in.

Justice Jon Sigurdson found British Columbia’s new laws aimed at cracking down on drunk driving go too far by allowing an automatic 90-day driving suspension when someone blows over .08 on a roadside screening device.

“Although I am fully satisfied of the importance of the objective of reducing the harms caused by impaired driving, I have found that. . . in one respect, the impugned legislation infringes the rights of individuals to be free from unreasonable search and seizure,” Sigurdson wrote.

The law allows for penalties that could cost the suspended driver over $4,000. Fines range up to $500. The cost of towing a vehicle is about $80 and up, depending on the distance towed. Storage fees are as high as $19.55 per day. The cost of installing an ignition lock device is $1,500, and the costs of enrolling in a remedial program is $880.

Sigurdson notes that in Alberta and Ontario, someone blowing over .08 in a roadside test would be then taken back to the police detachment for another test on a more sophisticated breathalyzer device. That person would have a right to a lawyer.

Under B.C.’s legislation, enacted last year, the penalties and costs are imposed at the roadside based solely on the results of the screening device.

Those devices don’t record the results permanently, so there is no way to challenge them later, Sigurdson found.

However, Sigurdson upheld provisions of the law that allow for suspension of up to 30 days for anyone that blows between .05 and .08.

Province is looking into modifying the law to take into account the judge’s ruling.