Driving While Impaired in Canada Essay

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Meanwhile, under the "National Defence Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. N-5)," every person that is driving a vehicle owned by the Canadian Forces, and is driving recklessly or "in a manner that is dangerous to any person or property having regard to all the circumstances of the case, or, having charge of an being in or on such a vehicle… [and] is impaired by alcohol or a drug, drives or attempts to drive such a vehicle, whether it is in motion or not… or… knowingly permits it to be driven by a person…impaired by alcohol or a drug, is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to less punishment…" (Department of Justice).

Legislative History of Bill C-2

The legislation that deals with drug-impaired driving (Bill C-2) was tucked into legislation that does several other things. It was called "Tackling Violent Crime Act," and had 5 parts. Part 1 dealt with firearms violations; Part 2 deals with increasing the age of consent for sexual interaction with an adult; Part 3 is the Drug-Impairment Driving portion; Part 4 has to do with "Bail Hearings" related again to firearms and other weapons; and Part 5 delved into dangerous offenders, and long-term offenders. So it is clear that driving while impaired with drugs is right up there with other violent criminal statutes.

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Meanwhile, this bill was originally introduced into the House of Commons on the 21st of November, 2006, and moved along with amendments to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on June 20, 2007.

Essay on Driving While Impaired in Canada Assignment

An officer is authorized to administer a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) on the highway if the officer "…has a reasonable suspicion that the driver has a drug in his or her body," and if the driver fails that roadside test, the officer can escort the driver to a police station at which time a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) evaluation "involving a combination of interviews and physical observations" will be administered (Bill C-2). If that DRE officer believes that a "specific family of drugs" could be the reason for the impairment, Bill C-2 authorizes that officer to "take a saliva, urine, or blood sample." If there is confirmation that the impairment was drug-related -- through a toxicology report -- charges can be leveled against the driver and those tests can be used as evidence in a trial.

An important part of this legislation relates to what is admissible in court. In the past, according to the Bill C-2 details, no evidence can be brought into a trial that relates to witness testimony. For example, a witness in the past could testify that "he or she had drunk only small amounts of alcohol," or, a witness could say that "he or she was drinking at a rate at which the alcohol consumed would have been absorbed and eliminated by the accused's body." The issue in any court situation, due to Bill C-2, must relate to the tests, and the concentration of blood alcohol, not to testimony from witnesses as to the behavior or consumption of the accused.

Relating to the history of this legislation, in May 1999, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released a report called "Toward eliminating Impaired Driving." In the report the Committee acknowledges that besides alcohol, drugs do play a part on highway accidents, and the "the extend of drug-impair5ed driving has been underestimated" since police did not have any way to test drivers for the presence of drugs in their system (Bill C-2). Hence, the report called for more effective ways to give police the tools that would be necessary for effective prosecution of those causing highway accidents because they were under the influence of drugs.

Another problem at the time with reference to giving police the tools needed to prove drugs were involved in the accident is that the Criminal Code in Canada required that police have "reasonable and probably grounds" to suspect that the driver was impaired. If the officer could smell the smoke from a marijuana cigarette, for example, that is probably cause. But otherwise, it was a guess on the part of the officer. Moreover, there was at that time "an apparent lack of a single non-evasive test" that would detect the use of drugs.

The House of Commons Committee then recommended that the Criminal Code be amended to allow a "justice to authorize the taking of a blood sample to test for the presence of alcohol or drugs," and the Committee also recommended that legislative action should be taken through the Minister of Justice, to allow the collecting of "better evidence against suspected drug-impaired drivers" (Bill C-2).

Meantime, in 2002, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs put together a report that was called "Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy." In that report, it stated that between 5% and 12% of drivers in Canada operate vehicles while under the influence of marijuana. As for males under the age of 25, the report claimed that more than 20% of those individuals use marijuana while driving or before getting behind the wheel. Interestingly, the report asserted that "…cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in driving and thus is not, in itself, a traffic risk" (Bill C-2).

After saying that, the report seems to contradict itself. Cannabis does lead to a "more cautious style of driving," the report continued, but it "…still has a negative impact on decision time and trajectory, making it difficult for drivers to stay in their lanes." So, on the one hand, no worries, a little marijuana won't have an affect on a driver. But on the other hand, drivers high on marijuana can't stay in their own lanes? One wonders how such seemingly contradictory statements could both be part of a legislative report.

But in any event, this Senate Committee recommended a "rapid testing tool" should be developed in order to detect cannabis in a driver's blood stream. The Committee in 2002 also recommended "lowering the permitted alcohol level to 40 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood when combined with drugs." In 2003, the Department of Justice's Working Group on Impaired Driving studied the issue, in cooperation with provinces and territories' leadership groups, and published a report called "Drug-Impaired Driving: Consultation Document."

The bottom line of this report was that legislation was needed to put some teeth into current practices and laws. Two options were offered in this report: a) a legal limit needs to be set on drugs in a driver's body, and yet a "zero limit" would not be appropriate because the legislators knew that marijuana stays in the body for several weeks after smoking; if a person was tested for drugs and came up positive, it could be from some cannabis used weeks ago and hence the test would be unfair and inappropriate; and b) the Working Group suggested a "certified SFST officer" could be in place to demand a physical sobriety test, take a saliva test or other kinds of tests on the roadside "based on a reasonable suspicion of drug-impairment"; and the sample test would have to be so reliable it could be used as evidence (Bill C-2).

In the fall of 2003, meantime, the House of Commons Special Committee on the non-medical Use of Drugs put out a parliamentary report, asking that a strategy be created to address the topic of driving while impaired by drugs -- in the context of a bill that had been proposed that would decriminalize the possession of small quantities of cannabis. In 2004, on April 26, Bill C-32 was introduced into the House of Commons that intended to amend the Criminal Code that deals with drug-impaired driving. After been referred to a committee, Bill C-32 died prior to any action being taken.

Another similar bill (Bill C-16) was introduced to the House of Commons in 2005, but that one was left to die as well. Still another bill was introduced in November, 2006, but it too did not make it through the system. Finally, Bill C-2 was introduced and it reflects the work that had been done over the years and puts into place a system of testing for impaired drivers that legislators and others believe is worthy and has a chance to reduce serious accidents caused by impaired drivers.

Canadian Provinces pass their own Beefed-up Laws

In New Brunswick, thanks to a law that went into effect in June, 2011, drivers will lose their licenses for a week, "even if their blood alcohol level doesn't top the legal limit" (CBC News). The Public Safety Minister for New Brunswick is Robert Trevors, and he explains to the CBC that any driver stopped and caught with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 to 0.08 -- determined though roadside testing… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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