Proposed changes to Alberta’s impaired driving laws this year are getting the thumbs down from the Red Deer Chapter of MADD Canada.
Local President Marilyn Rinas says Bill 29 creates loopholes for lawyers to get criminals off sooner or with no punishment at all.
“The law enforcements do not have all the correct tools to get those impaired drivers off the roads,” says Rinas. “It’s like a band-aid. Each province is going to be different when this law comes out in July, there’s no consistency with it.”
Rinas says in meetings with RCMP, officers have indicated because breathalyzer machines are so expensive, not everyone has the training to operate them just yet but they hope to have that accomplished by the time the new laws come into effect.
“By having those things not in place, lawyers are going to get those people off,” fears Rinas. “They’re going to find loopholes, they’re going to say a strong breathalyzer wasn’t brand new or their machines haven’t been updated or correctly maintained and if the training is not in place, the lawyers are going to find those loopholes.”
Rinas feels this will lead to more impaired driving cases in the court system which won’t be able to keep up with them all and result in some being stayed or thrown out altogether.
“The way the criminal charges are laid out when they’re first given to the accused, need to be stronger, the wording needs to be changed” states Rinas. “For example, there’s one that Criminal negligence causing death, the wording needs to be changed to Manslaughter. The laws need to be stricter.”
“The person that killed my husband had five criminal charges against him,” recalls Rinas. “However, they took all those five charges and amalgamated them into three to give him a lesser sentence because of the wording.”
Educating the public is the focus for MADD at this point says Rinas. Doing mock demonstrations at the high schools and having the goggles put on and going through the obstacle courses are examples of that according to Rinas.
“Just making young adults more aware of what they’re doing when they get behind the wheel when they’re impaired,” says Rinas. “Whether it be with alcohol or drugs or both.”
Rinas says the proposed changes in the current bill simply don’t go far enough to deter impaired driving and adds, “The sentences need to be stricter to have more of an impact.”
In terms of the proposed changes to Alberta’s impaired driving laws, Bill 29 is an ‘Act to reduce Cannabis and Alcohol Impaired Driving’. A response to the Government of Canada’s new legislation (Bill C-46) to legalize cannabis in Canada which proposes new legal limits for cannabis and cannabis / alcohol combinations and updated penalties for drug-impaired driving under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Alberta government officials say Bill 29 has been passed to address these changes, deter impaired driving and improve safety on our roads.
Bill 29 amends Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act to reflect changes being made to federal impaired driving laws, expand impaired driving rules for new drivers and address the Alberta Court of Appeal ruling that one of Alberta’s sanctions for impaired driving is unconstitutional.
The ruling stated that suspending licenses until a matter is resolved in court infringes on an individual’s Charter rights. The Alberta Court of Appeal has given the province until May 18 to remedy the situation.
The main highlights of Bill 29 include expanding zero tolerance for drivers in the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program, in addition to zero tolerance for alcohol. There will be zero tolerance for cannabis, cannabis / alcohol combinations and illegal drugs in the blood stream.
Provincial sanctions for drivers with a blood drug concentration or blood drug / alcohol concentration over the limits outlined under the Criminal Code of Canada will be the same as those for existing criminal impaired driving offences, such as alcohol-impaired driving. Those include immediate license suspension, vehicle seizure, remedial education and participation in an ignition interlock program.
Also, an immediate 90-day fixed-term license suspension for drivers who meet the criteria to be charged for impaired driving under the Criminal Code of Canada, followed by participation in a one-year provincial ignition interlock program. According to the Alberta Government website, drivers who do not participate will remain suspended for the year, replacing the previous sanction that suspended a driver’s license until the outcome of criminal court proceedings.
In Alberta, 24.1 per cent of all road fatalities involved a driver who tested positive for both alcohol and drugs in 2013. Also, 389 people were killed and 5,969 people injured in alcohol-related collisions between 2013 and 2015.
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