New Views: Judge’s ruling fails

An editorial on a court ruling on B.C.'s tough drinking-and-driving laws

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled that the toughest of the province’s new impaired driving penalties infringe people’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

Increased roadside penalties for blowing in the “warn” range of blood alcohol, from 0.05 to 0.08 per cent, are permissible. But, the judge ruled Wednesday, drivers who blow more than 0.08 should have a chance to defend themselves in court, before their vehicles are impounded for 30 days and they face thousands of dollars in penalties.

Just in time for Christmas.

Just a week ago, Premier Christy Clark stood on the steps of the B.C. Legislature, surrounded by RCMP officers, and announced that since the new impaired driving laws were introduced just over a year ago, alcohol-related driving deaths have decreased 40 per cent. There were 68 alcohol-related deaths across B.C. in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, compared with 113 deaths in the previous 12 months.

Now movie theatres want to serve beer and wine.

Question: saving lives in an infringement on whose rights? What about those of Laurel Middelaer, whose four-year-old daughter Alexa was struck and killed by an impaired driver in Delta in 2008?

Fact is, pubs and restaurants started crying in their beers as soon as the new laws were introduced because people wouldn’t buy more than one drink, or were just staying home – off the roads – fearing the expensive penalties.

Police can still fine drivers up to $450 and impound vehicles for up to three days. But the government now has to amend the laws to allow Breathalyzer readings to be challenged. That won’t happen, however, until the legislature reopens in the spring.

Even then, officers are going to have to revert back to the criminal law and waste time taking people back to stations for Breathalyzer tests and spend time in court if the results are challenged.

The goal of a police officer is to keep the public safe. But this ruling leaves them and the B.C. government little choice but to back down on the harsher roadside penalties.

Imposing the most severe roadside penalties on drivers who choose to ignore the laws and put the lives of others at risk, in our view, is a reasonable limit in our free and democratic society. If you don’t want to pay, don’t drink and drive.

In this case, the tougher laws were working. It is the  judge who failed.

– The News

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