Has the self-styled “party of the Charter,” as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau still, curiously, calls the Liberals, actually even read the Charter? Have the Liberals, for that matter, paid much attention to what their own prime minister has been saying?
Canada’s impaired driving laws underwent a major overhaul last month, courtesy of the federal Liberal government. Some of the changes were necessary to recognize the changed reality of legalized cannabis. Others were simply intended to further reduce rates of impaired driving, by drug or alcohol, on our roads. This is a goal everyone shares — impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada, way ahead of anything else. It’s a stubborn problem that governments are right to try to address, particularly a government that has recently legalized a whole new category of intoxicant.
But the new laws have given to police significant new powers. In a free society, that’s never something to be done lightly. And in this particular case, what is being done is especially bizarre because the Liberals are now insisting that such powers will not be abused even while insisting, in a slightly different context, that they inevitably will be.
One of the new powers given to police is the right, under certain circumstances, to demand a breath sample from someone who has not provided any sign that they might be impaired. Previously, a police officer needed at least some grounds to insist on such a test — the officer could have observed erratic driving before pulling the car over, for instance, or suspected a whiff of alcohol on a driver’s breath. Under the new law, a driver stopped by police for any lawful reason whatsoever (which is a very low bar) may be subjected to a breath test. Refusing to provide one is itself a criminal offence. Canadians effectively have no choice but to comply.