Canada: “Reasonable Suspicion” Not Needed for DUI Breath Tests

Starting next year, drivers in Canada could be required to take alcohol breath tests regardless of whether officers have a “reasonable suspicion” that they are driving under the influence of alcohol.

Currently, during a DUI checkpoint or DUI stops, Canadian police ask questions and engage drivers in a conversation to look for signs of impairment. If those signs exist, they can ask a driver to submit to a breath test. But starting in July 2018, any motorist pulled over for any reason can be asked to provide a breath sample—even if there are no indications of alcohol impairment.

New laws target drugged and drunk driving

The change in the country’s Criminal Code is response to Canada’s proposed Cannabis Act, which is likely to go into law in just over a year. The act sets the groundwork for the county’s legalization of marijuana, but lawmakers have also used it as an opportunity to overhaul Canada’s impaired driving laws for both drugs and alcohol.

The act’s mandatory alcohol screening provision authorizes “law enforcement officers who have an ‘approved screening device’ at hand to demand breath samples of any drivers they lawfully stop, without first requiring that they have a suspicion that the driver has alcohol in their body.” The act also includes increased fines and penalties for drunk driving, as well as an increased use of ignition interlocks.

End justifies the means?

The Canadian government notes that “impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada.” The changes in the Criminal Code for impaired driving are meant to make it easier to identify and prosecute drunk drivers. Supporters also believe the change will keep drunk drivers from avoiding penalties due to questions about whether an officer had a “reasonable” suspicion of impairment before asking a DUI suspect for a breath test.

But critics are worried that lowering the standards for testing violates drivers’ constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure. They also argue that allowing officers to breath test drivers without cause is inefficient and could create a slippery slope in reducing due process.

Canada’s current requirement for breath testing is similar to standards used in the United States, so law enforcement agencies and traffic safety advocates on this side of the border are watching the evolution of Canada’s laws with interest. What do you think of the change?


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