Police will retain ability to impose immediate licence suspensions until May 2018

The Alberta government will not appeal a ruling from the Alberta Court of Appeal that struck down a law allowing authorities to suspend the licences of motorists charged with drunk driving until their cases have been resolved in court.

But the province intends to change the impaired driving legislation to meet the court's May 2018 deadline, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley told a news conference Wednesday.

"We will be looking at other legislative models across the country to see which initiatives have been most effective in saving lives," Ganley said. "We want to ensure that our laws reduce impaired driving and are also upheld in court."

The law in question, a section of the Traffic Safety Act, allows immediate and mandatory licence suspension for anyone charged with impaired driving.

In a 2-1 split decision in May, Alberta's highest court ruled the law violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because it ignores the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial before any punishment is imposed.

"The primary concern of the court centred around the fact that that may cause people to resolve their matter by way of a guilty plea in order to get their licences back," Ganley said. 

The government will likely still rely on administrative sanctions such as fines and licence suspensions when it rewrites the law. 

Ganley said a temporary licence suspension of 30 days, for example, would be fine, as it doesn't tie the return of a licence to the resolution of the court case.

"We just felt that in this instance there was a risk, because of the coupling of the licence suspension to the resolution of the criminal matter, that the Supreme Court might decide against us," she said. 

The current law will remain in effect until the government makes the changes, meaning people suspected of impaired driving can still have their licences suspended until the case is resolved in court. 

"The courts have given us this time, and it's quite common for courts to suspend a declaration of invalidity like this," Ganley said. "So we think we can continue to operate safely under the model."

Lawyer Nathan Whitling represented the appellants in the case.

While he thinks the government is doing the right thing by not appealing the decision, he remains concerned Charter rights will be violated until Alberta changes its legislation. 

Whitling said the Court of Appeal rejected a request to amend the order so people could apply to get their licences back while the old system remained in place. 

"Our view is that it is fairly urgent for the government to create a new regime because there is going to be ongoing Charter violations in the meantime," he said. 

Critics of the law said people accused of impaired driving have their licences suspended for a shorter time if they plead guilty without going to trial, compared to those who plead not guilty and go to trial.

Edmonton lawyer Shannon Prithipaul, who defends many people accused of impaired driving, said the wait for such cases to go to trial varies throughout the province, which increases the inequity of the current law. 

She said judges in Stony Plain have figured out a way to get cases tried in about two months. However, the wait can be a year or more in other parts of the province. 

The current situation means lawyers have to tell clients they are subject to an unconstitutional law, Prithipaul said.

"Unfortunately, there is not much we can do for clients, and that is not a great position for a lawyer to be in," she said. 

Source: CBC News



Last updated on: 2017-10-01 | Link to this post