Alberta should adopt B.C.'s impaired driving rules, says MADD Canada CEO

MADD Canada says a move from punishment to rehabilitation could reduce the number of impaired driving incidents and speed up lengthy court battles.

'It works under the premise that driving is a privilege ... And so driving impaired is a violation of that'

Calgary checkstop, December 2013. (File Photo/CBC)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada says moving from a punishment-based system to a rehabilitation-based one could reduce the number of impaired driving incidents and cut down on lengthy court battles.

The province has until May 2018 to introduce new legislation after the Alberta Court of Appeal found suspending the licence of motorists charged with drunk driving until their court cases are resolved is unconstitutional.

MADD Canada says Alberta should look west when drafting new legislation. It says adopting B.C.'s 30-day impounds and suspensions will discourage impaired driving.

"Once you're over the criminal limit, your licence is suspended for 30 days, but your vehicle is also impounded for 30 days," Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"So basically there's no opportunity to drive."

Temporary suspensions

Murie said B.C.'s suspensions are different from Alberta's because they are temporary and operate under an administrative framework instead of a criminal one.


"It works under the premise that driving is a privilege," Murie said. "You're given this licence to perform by the rules of the road, and so driving impaired is a violation of that.

"So [police] can be much more rigorous in their powers to impound vehicles, suspend licences, and the courts have found that constitutionally sound."

Cutting red tape

Murie said a number of impaired driving cases in Alberta have already been thrown out because they came under the Jordan ruling, which limits the amount of time between when a person is charged and when they have their day in court.

Adopting B.C.'s system in Alberta could take some strain off the province's legal system because suspension and impound would take place on the side of the road as soon as someone is found to be over the legal limit.

"And it's all done in a very quick process," Murie said. "Where in the criminal justice process you can be charged [and] you can wait anywhere from … six months to two years [for it] to be resolved."

Officers stop drivers in Calgary at one of 157 roadside checkstops set up across Alberta on Dec. 7, 2013. (CBC)

If the province decides not to create a new law, Ian Savage, president of the Calgary Criminal Defence Lawyers' Association, said Alberta could instead "easily revert" to older legislation.

"Within a day they could institute the previous law and be more fair to Albertans," Savage said.

Focus on rehabilitation and education

Savage said early education is a critical part of combating impaired driving.

"Frankly, there's a whole new generation of people turning 18 every day and drinking in Alberta and across the country, and education is important," Savage said. "So we want to educate people about the risks of their behaviour." 

Ian Savage, president of the Calgary Criminal Defence Lawyers' Association. (CBC)

Murie said  measures and education have been effective in B.C., and introducing things like alcohol interlocks, rehabilitation programs and stiff fines can impede impaired drivers.

"From MADD Canada's perspective, it's not all about punishment," Murie said. "What we want to do is if someone gets caught impaired driving, we want to give them things so that that incident will never happen again."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener