Canada's toughest impaired driving laws came into effect in B.C. on Monday, but civil liberties advocates worry the province may have gone too far with the automatic roadside suspensions and fines that don't give people a day in court.

Under the new laws, drivers caught with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher or those who refuse to give a breath sample will:

  • Get a three-month driving ban.
  • Get a $500 administrative penalty, and a $250 driver's licence reinstatement fee.
  • Have their vehicle impounded for 30 days.
  • Have to pay for the towing and impoundment costs
  • Have to pay for the mandatory use of an ignition interlock device for one year.
  • Face possible criminal charges.

The total cost adds up to almost $4,000, and it can all be triggered during a roadside stop by a police, without any immediate criminal charges or time in court.

Robert Holmes, the president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, is concerned the process tips the scales of justice unfairly against the accused, without providing for a day in court.

"The government seeks to clip all of that out, eliminate the ability to have a fair process where you get your day in court and take away from people their ability effectively to challenge action the state may wish to take to eliminate people's right to drive," said Holmes.

"Instead you'll have a police officer who decides on the street that he's going to give you a suspension. Following on that, the administrative bureaucracy of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles gets in play and requires a cascading effecting of costly things to be done and limitations to be put in place, which really can be quite draconian and quite unfair," he said.

Holmes said he's also worried some of those affected will drive while suspended, because they can't afford to pay the fines and fees.

Aiming to change behaviour

But Public Safety Minister Mike de Jong says 133 people died in B.C. last year because of impaired driving, and the new rules are designed to quickly change people's behaviour without tying up the courts with legal cases.

"It seems the only way you can change behaviour is by imposing sanction that has dramatic impact on people's lives," said de Jong.

There's also a new warn range, which drops the legal blood alcohol limit to 0.05. Those caught over that level for the first time will face an immediate three-day driving ban, $450 in penalties and fees, and three-days of vehicle impoundment.

Excessive speeders and reckless drivers also face a seven-day vehicle impoundment for the first offence and at least $368 in penalties, plus a hike in their insurance of $320 for three years.