There are new impaired driving laws in Alberta that will vastly impact how DUIs and Impaired Driving infractions in Alberta will be dealt with. The law predominantly effects first-time offenders, and it changes the way impaired driving law in Alberta lays Criminal Charges.
On December 1st, 2020, the Government of Alberta put into practice a new system for dealing with most Impaired Driving charges. These changes are largely contained within Bill 21 and are now in place.
This change represents a radical revision to the way impaired driving laws have worked for decades. Moving forward, the police will have the discretion to not charge people with Impaired Driving or DUI or being “over the legal limit” in circumstances where previously, that person would have faced a Criminal Charge.
Generally speaking, for all first offenders who could be charged with Impaired Driving, or DUI, the police will instead serve papers which will result in what the Province is calling an “Administrative” penalty.
Essentially, the administrative penalty will still involve the usual penalties that a first-time offender would face. This includes payment of a fine, seizure of their vehicle, and the loss of their driver’s license and ability to drive for a period of time — except in restricted circumstances where an Ignition Interlock device would be installed in their vehicle instead of loss of license. These are the same penalties that one would face if convicted in court, but without the, arguable, largest penalty, a Criminal Record.
The Province will be dealing with most Impaired Driving cases without court charges or the risk of a Criminal Record, but all the other penalties will remain in place. These penalties will likely affect your insurance as well. In theory there is a benefit in not having to risk a Criminal Record, but unfortunately this also means that your ability to dispute the allegation has been seriously curtailed. If someone wants to deny that they were driving while Impaired or “over the limit,” they would no longer be able to plead not guilty and have a trial.
They would also therefore lose the presumption of innocence and the many protections provided by the trial process, such as rules of evidence and enforcement of the Rights and Freedoms contained in The Charter. There will no longer even be a method of facing your accuser and cross-examination to test the evidence!
Instead, the Province has set up an Administrative hearing system which is a far cry from a fair trial. In this system, the police only have to submit their written report and it is considered the same as evidence given under oath. There is no opportunity to cross-examine or thoroughly test this evidence. If you want to challenge the allegation, you can only provide your version of events and hope for the best. That is not how a trial works. In the new system, there is also only a very short time period within which you can even file the appeal. The system is basically designed to remove the lengthy court process and instead quickly punish you by taking your license and giving you a fine, all while making it extremely unlikely you will have a successful appeal or even file an appeal in the first place.
The main rationale for this change in the law is financial. Impaired Driving cases take up court time and the Government knows that removing most Impaired Driving cases from the Court system will decrease the cost of administering the courts and even paying for Crown Prosecutors.
The trade-off for no Criminal Record is steep. You still lose your license, have a hit to your insurance rates with no presumption of innocence, and lose the opportunity to face your accuser and test the evidence in a fair trial.
There will still be Impaired Driving charges in some cases with aggravating features such as collisions or injuries. If someone has a prior Criminal Record for Impaired Driving, they may still be charged as well.
If you have questions about this new system, or if you face Impaired Driving charges or require legal advice for DUI, Impaired Driving, Refusing to Provide a Breath sample, or any other Criminal charge, you should speak to an experienced trial lawyer.
Brian McGlashan of McGlashan & Company has over 25 years of experience in court defending all types of Criminal charges. Contact Brian at McGlashan & Company immediately if you have been charged with a DUI or need legal advice for any criminal charge.