Canada’s controversial impaired driving reforms are now a month old

Published: July 17, 2018



Much of the news has been dominated by distracted driving increases in Canada. Fatalities involving distracted driving have overtaken those involving impaired driving. Of course, that does not mean drink driving is not a massive issue and we are now a month into Canada’s new controversial impaired driving laws.

Bill C-46 was officially introduced to tackle drink and drug impairment, giving police powerful methods to combat impaired drivers. A month into the laws, many people still disagree with their implementation.

Starting this December, police will be able to enforce a roadside breath test for any driver, regardless of suspicion. Under the current system, reasonable suspicious is needed to demand a breath test. For drivers who refuse to take a test, a criminal charge will follow.

This controversial law is not implemented yet, but lawmakers, politicians and drivers are worried it violates the Chartered protection against unreasonable search. The government retorts that random on the spot breath tests are used in other countries and have resulted in a major decrease in impaired driving numbers.

One Bill C-46 law that is already in place allows police officers to use screening devices that test saliva of drivers they have stopped. This test is designed to find the presence of cocaine, methamphetamine and THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Police are not permitted to conduct random tests for saliva screening.

With marijuana set to become legal for recreational use across Canada in October, how authorities manage impaired driving from cannabis is a crucial talking point. The new laws set a level for THC in the blood within two hours of driving. This allows police to place an impaired driving charge based exclusively on the results of a blood test. In other words, not other proof of impairment is needed.

Canada is essentially adopting a system it has used for alcohol for year, but porting it to THC blood testing. The government has offered its levels, based on nanograms per millilitre of blood:

  • A THC level between 2 and 5 ng would be a lower-level offence with a fine of up to $1000;
  • A THC level above 5 ng would come with the same penalties as an alcohol-impaired driving conviction, including mandatory minimum penalties of a $1000 fine on a first offence, 30 days imprisonment on a second offence and 120 days imprisonment on a third offence;

A mixture of a THC level above 2.5 ng and a blood alcohol concentration above 50 mg per 100 mL would have the same penalties as above.