The Trudeau government has a piece of legislation quietly sliding through Parliament on its way to becoming law — reportedly just before Christmas — that will significantly impact the civil rights of Canadians. The citizens of this country should consider the implications of the proposed law and, if they are unhappy with the legislation, tell their MPs.
Bill C-46 would change Canada’s impaired driving laws to allow police officers to randomly pull over any driver and demand a breath sample. Under the current laws, an officer can only pull over a vehicle or demand a breath sample if there are what the lawyers call “indicia of impairment” — some evidence that the driver is impaired. That could include behaviour such as failing to stay in one’s lane, speeding, travelling too slowly, operating lights improperly, or slurring or smelling of alcohol or, for instance, marijuana once pulled over.
That is as it should be in a country with a justice system based on the important principle of innocent until proven guilty.
As Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan has pointed out, those offended by a demand for a breath sample, if they refuse, face being charged with failing to provide a sample, which generally leads to a criminal record, a driving ban and fines similar to what one receives if convicted of impaired driving. While such a charge is reasonable when police have evidence of impairment, it is hardly just when a person appears sober. There are also reasonable fears the police will use the new powers to target visible minorities or others.
Some will say that innocent people shouldn’t fear providing a breath sample, or that such a law is justified in combatting drunk or drugged driving. That is wrong-headed. In combatting crime, arguing that the ends justify the means is the beginning of the path toward a police state.
The federal government should abandon its proposed legislation.