Police conducting a roadside check for impaired drivers.

Police conducting a roadside check for impaired drivers.

Court reprieve restores full arsenal of roadside penalties against drunks

Follow-up ruling gives province six months to revise impaired driving punishments to comply with law

The courts have temporarily restored the power of police officers to issue stiff 90-day suspensions to impaired drivers caught with a blood-alcohol level over 0.08.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson, who previously struck down that part of the roadside penalty system, issued a follow-up ruling Friday that suspends the implementation of his decision until June 30.

That effectively gives the provincial government six months to pass new legislation to ensure the roadside penalties and process to appeal them comply with the law.

Justice Sigurdson noted the government considers the automatic roadside penalties more effective than criminal prosecutions in fighting impaired driving.

“I have concluded that an immediate declaration of invalidity of part of the (administrative penalty) regime may pose a danger to the public,” he found.

Sigurdson’s original Nov. 30 ruling fanned fears that police powers to battle impaired drivers would be seriously eroded just as the holiday CounterAttack campaign was getting underway.

For three weeks since the Nov. 30 judgment, police had been unable to issue the 90-day suspensions and related penalties and fees that add up to $3,750 for drivers who blow in the “fail” range over 0.08.

Instead, officers at roadblocks faced a choice: arrest the driver and proceed with a time-consuming criminal impaired investigation or else issue only a 24-hour suspension.

A roadblock that caught two impaired drivers would lose its investigating officers to the criminal procedure and might have to halt enforcement early that night as a result.

For roadside readings of 0.08 per cent or higher, police had previously been imposing a 90-day driving ban, a $500 fine and impounding the vehicle for 30 days. That suspension can cost a driver $3,750, including $700 for towing and storage and $1,420 to take a mandatory “responsible driver” course.

To comply with the court rulings, the province must ensure those drivers get a chance to challenge the decision.

“We will work to introduce changes to the Motor Vehicle Act as soon as possible in the spring legislative session,” Solicitor General Shirley Bond said in a statement Friday. “We continue to analyze Justice Sigurdson’s comprehensive decision to determine what those changes will consist of.”

Justice Sigurdson also found 90-day suspensions are constitutional for drivers who refuse to provide a breath sample upon request.

He also upheld the use of the immediate roadside prohibitions for drivers who blow in the “warn” range between 0.05 and 0.08.

Bond noted the roadside penalties resulted in a 40 per cent drop in alcohol-related deaths in the first year.

“The statistics speak for themselves,” she said. “Forty-five more people are alive to enjoy the holidays this year because police stopped impaired drivers, people who would not be with their families today without this legislation.

“We are not going to give up our fight to remove impaired drivers from B.C.’s roads, and we will continue to use every responsible tool at our disposal to combat drinking and driving,” Bond said.

“We want the public to know police will be out in full force over Christmas as part of their CounterAttack program to protect the public from people who are drinking and driving.”

Sigurdson has yet to rule on whether B.C. drivers who were punished without sufficient right to appeal are entitled to compensation.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Record-setting high jumper Emma de Boer, who lives in Cloverdale and attends Holy Cross Regional High School in Fleetwood, will train and study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) next fall. (submitted photo)
Surrey jumper on a high after recruitment by UPenn track team

High jumper Emma de Boer aims to leave Cloverdale for Philadelphia next fall

Surrey RCMP Gang Enforcement Team street check. (File photo)
Surrey RCMP gang enforcement team seizes five vehicles

This was over 13 days, as SGET continues to target gang activity in this city

File photo
Surrey to borrow $150 million for three major recreation projects

That’s for a sports complex in the city centre, a sports and ice complex in Cloverdale and a community centre in Newton

A memorial remains near the site of where South Surrey mechanic Paul Prestbakmo was killed in August 2019. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
RCMP appeal for witnesses after hit-and-run leaves girl, 17, in critical condition

The Metro Vancouver teenager was found unconscious and critically injured after being hit: police

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

Langley activist Dorscie Paterson celebrated her 108th birthday on Monday, Jan. 25 at the Cedar Hill long term care facility. Because of the pandemic, she remained inside, able to see, but not shake hands with visitors. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Celebrating a 108th birthday without physical contact

Pandemic required Langley woman to stay behind a window

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
5 big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

Most Read