British Columbia

B.C. lawsuit alleges use of faulty breathalyzers

A Vancouver legal firm is seeking a class-action lawsuit over B.C.'s tough new drinking and driving laws, alleging police were issuing fines using improper breathalyzer tests.
A lawsuit aims to have many B.C. drunk-driving cases thrown out because of a problem with the breathalyzers, the CBC's Tim Weekes reports 2:04

A Vancouver legal firm is seeking a class-action lawsuit over B.C.'s tough new drinking and driving laws, alleging police were issuing fines using improper breathalyzer tests.

The lawsuit alleges that between Sept. 20 and Nov. 19, officers in B.C. were negligent when they administered roadside breathalyzer tests with devices that were improperly programmed.

The lawsuit does not challenge the validity of the impaired driving legislation, but is focused on "the alleged deficiencies of the police in investigating and enforcing the legislation."

Legislation effective in September allows officers to issue immediate roadside suspensions to drivers with a blood-alcohol levels of between 0.05 and 0.08, determined by a roadside breathalyzer.

In November, Victoria police Chief Jamie Graham recalled 2,200 roadside breathalyzers  over fears they may have been miscalibrated, resulting in faulty readings and unnecessary roadside suspensions.

Lee Hartt, a Surrey heavy-equipment operator who is the lead plaintiff in the class action, was stopped in his car and tested in that period. His breathalyzers registered 0.05, and police suspended his licence, impounded his car and issued a fine.

"Some people who would have blown over during that period may have been less than 50 milligrams, or less than 0.05," said Bernard Buettner, one of Hartt's lawyers.

Hartt wants to be reimbursed for the fine and costs to have his licence reinstated.

"The lawsuit is important, since the new driving legislation requires the public to place greater reliance on the police to properly investigate potential infractions and to stay within the bounds of the authority provided to them," Harper Grey LLP, the law firm representing Hartt, said in a written statement.

"Although the government has announced that they will consider reviewing the legislation to provide an appeal process, there is no indication that people affected by the alleged negligence of the police will have their driving prohibitions quashed, fines refunded or receive compensation for towing or impounding fees."

Harper Grey aims to certify the class action within 90 days. None of the allegations has been proven in court.

If certified, the lawsuit would provide drivers who were penalized during the specified time period with an opportunity to overturn driving prohibitions improperly issued to them, and to recover compensation for fines and vehicle impoundment charges.