New impaired driving laws give Montreal police more power to test drivers

Under the new Canada-wide rules, police officers can ask drivers to take a breathalyzer test anytime they pull one over.

Police officers can ask drivers to take breathalyzer test anytime they're pulled over under new rules

One defence lawyer says the new rules could put too much power in the hands of police. (Radio-Canada)

Montreal police say changes to Canada's impaired driving law, which came into effect today, mean they will have more tools to ensure the safety of people using the road — but for others, the changes raise concerns.

Under changes to Criminal Code starting today, police will be able to carry out what is called mandatory alcohol screening, which means officers can demand a breath sample at the roadside from any driver who has been lawfully stopped. 

"For us, it's a new tool, but it's a new tool for the safety of all the people that are on the road," said Nathalie Valois, an impaired driving specialist with the SPVM. "It has happened that the police officer couldn't detect anything."

Previously, officers had to have "reasonable suspicion" that a driver had alcohol in his or her body to demand a breath sample. That means they had a limited amount of time to determine if there are signs of impairment.

Those signs could include smelling alcohol, hearing slurred speech or admission.

"There have been studies that even if a police officer wants to detect alcohol, some people don't show signs [of inebriation]," said Valois. 

That doesn't mean the person driving wasn't impaired by alcohol, Valois said.

Valois said drivers will continue to be questioned in a similar way — with questions about whether they've been partying or drinking, and so on — but an officer can now press further if they choose to.

Change could open door to profiling: defence lawyer

One defence lawyer says the new rules could put too much power in the hands of police.

"That opens the door to some exaggerated actions by cops, and that can be translated into whatever type of profiling," said Thierry Rasam, the president of the law firm SOS Ticket. "I do see pitfalls that could be possible."

The new rule will change a lot for lawyers, he said.

"The intention of the law is to protect the public," explained Rasam, who said his firm sees a lot of impaired driving cases.

Lawyers are waiting to see how the courts interpret the law, he said.

"There's always a defence, because not everybody that is accused is actually guilty," Rasam said.

With files from Navneet Pall


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