Mandatory Roadside Breath Tests Would Be Constitutional, Justice Officials Insist

Article by Brian Platt, National Post

Mandatory roadside breath tests would be constitutional, justice officials insist

A proposed law that would allow police to take a roadside breath sample without evidence that a driver has been drinking was under scrutiny again in Parliament on Tuesday, as Canada’s justice minister defended it against arguments it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Questions around its constitutionality have been raised,” Jody Wilson-Raybould, flanked by senior justice department officials, acknowledged to a House of Commons committee studying the bill.

But she said she’s confident mandatory alcohol screening would survive a court challenge, calling it “minimally intrusive, but the benefits in lives saved will be immeasurable.”

Under current law, police need a reasonable suspicion a person has consumed alcohol before demanding a breathalyzer test, but Wilson-Raybould said evidence indicates around 50 per cent of impaired drivers tend to escape detection.

Deputy Attorney General William Pentney also argued the law, which still requires police to have a valid reason for pulling someone over in the first place, would have a large deterrent effect in itself.

“We’re not saying that every police officer that stops every person for a broken tail light must ask,” he said. “But we are saying that everyone who gets pulled over for whatever reason in whatever context should know that they might be asked, and if they’re asked, they have a legal obligation to comply.”

In an earlier statement on the law’s Charter effects, the government likened a mandatory breath sample to the requirement to show a driver’s licence, describing it as “simply information about whether a driver is complying with one of the conditions imposed in the highly regulated context of driving.”

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