Alberta drivers face tough new drunk driving laws

Proposed legislation allowing police to immediately suspend the licence of anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol content over .08 was among five new bills tabled Monday in the Alberta legislature.
Transportation Minister Ray Danyluk discusses Alberta's tough new drunk driving law tabled Monday in the legislative assembly. (CBC)

Proposed legislation allowing police to immediately suspend the licence of anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol content over .08 was among five new bills tabled Monday in the Alberta legislature. 

"Twenty-two per cent of drivers involved in fatal collisions have consumed alcohol and 96 people have died last year," Transportation Minister Ray Danyluk said.

"All of these have and are preventable and we're here today because we want to bring down those numbers."

If passed, Bill 26 would keep licence suspensions in place for people caught with more than .08 of blood alcohol content until their cases are dealt with in court.

Convicted drivers would then have to participate in a mandatory ignition interlock program, where their vehicle will not start if they have any alcohol in their blood.

Repeat offenders also face escalating penalties under the proposed legislation. Drivers convicted of impaired driving for the third time will have to participate in the vehicle interlock program for five years.

'Investigator, prosecutor and judge'

The bill doesn't just target motorists who blow over the legal limit. Drivers with a blood alcohol content between .05 and .08 also face penalties, including licence suspensions ranging from three to 30 days and short-term vehicle seizures. They will also have to take part in driver education programs, if they are caught a second and third time.

The province is also focusing on young drivers with this new legislation. Motorists with graduated licences would have their vehicles seized for a week and face a 30-day driving ban if they are caught with any blood alcohol in their system.

"This is a very thoughtful, made in Alberta approach," Danyluk said. "This is not a blanket solution. It is designed to change behaviours."

The proposed legislation is raising red flags for Alberta defence lawyers. D'Arcy Depoe, from the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association, says it allows a police officer to become an "investigator, prosecutor and judge."

"It's a system that will inevitably lead to innocent people having very serious penalties imposed unjustifiably," he said.

Other bills tabled Monday include Bill 21, which would set a fixed election period every four years and Bill 23, which amends a controversial law that governs the compensation of property owners whose land is expropriated for such things as transportation projects.

Bill 24, Health Quality Council of Alberta Act, would give the organization powers to appoint a judge to conduct inquiries into the health care system, if one is called by cabinet.

The inquiries would be open to the public and have the power to subpoena witnesses and call evidence. The province says the legislation would make the Health Quality Council more independent by having it report directly to the legislative assembly.

The tabled legislation moves the government closer to holding an independent inquiry into allegations of physician intimidation, but opposition politicians have said this doesn't live up to Premier Alison Redford's leadership campaign promise to hold a judicial inquiry.

Bill 25, the Child and Youth Advocate Act, would transform the advocate into an independent officer of the legislature. The law changes the reporting arrangement for the advocate, who currently answers to the minister of human services.

The proposed legislation also seeks to "clarify" publication bans under the act. Critics say the current version of the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act prevents the public from knowing what happened to children who died while under government care.