New rules that increase penalties for drunk driving and expand police powers to demand breath samples take effect across Canada on Tuesday, with some predicting the law will face a series of legal challenges.
The legislation, which passed in June at the same time as new rules for drug-impaired driving, is intended to curb injuries and death by helping police catch drivers with more than the legal limit of alcohol in their bloodstreams.
It gives police officers the right to ask for a breath sample from any driver they lawfully stop, lowering the bar from the previous legislation, which required that an officer have reasonable suspicion that a person had been drinking. Such a system is already in place in more than 40 countries.
Toronto-based lawyer Michael Engel, who often defends those charged with impaired driving, said the new rules are a big change that raise concerns about baseless searches.
“This is a radical departure from previous law, which insulated people against warrantless searches without probable cause,” he said.
The new rules could lead to a backlog in the legal system as lower courts wait for higher courts to make a decision on likely challenges to the law’s constitutionality, he said.
“It’s a brave new world,” Engel said. “This is a wholesale change to the criminal code.”
Civil rights organizations have also sounded alarms about the new rules, with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association expressing concern that mandatory alcohol screening will unfairly affect racial minorities who are disproportionately singled out by cops for traffic stops.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has said she has “every expectation” the law will be challenged in the courts, but noted that she’s sure it’ll pass the test. She said it’s in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.