The Social Costs of Alberta's New Impaired Driving Regime

Premier Redford, as promised, tabled Bill 26 the Traffic Safety Amendment Act, 2011 as the legislative response to government concerns with impaired driving in the Province. The Bill has already passed first and second readings in the legislature. No doubt, with the truncated legislative proceedings, the Bill will be passed into law before the end of the year. I have already, in previous blogs, discussed some issues with this new legislation and the concerns over the foundational reasons for the new amendments, particularly the statistical evidence used to support the new measures. Previous blogs have also mentioned the lack of due process and criminal law protections connected with the new law as it diverts offenders from the justice system in favour of an administratively expedient process controlled by the police and by the transportation ministry.

Another concern, is the immediate and mandatory suspension automatically imposed on the offender who is charged with an impaired/over 80 criminal code offence. Those individuals, by virtue of being charged criminally, are thereafter disqualified from driving a motor vehicle until their criminal case has been disposed in the criminal courts. This administrative driver's licence suspension therefore can continue for an undefined period and is dependent upon the timeliness of the matter being heard in the criminal courts. 

This is a concerning element as it places an unquantifiable burden upon the allocation of public resources in the criminal justice system. Not unlike the Askov case on Charter trial delay, the impact of this suspension, which is wholly dependent on the ability of the court system to hear impaired cases quickly, can potentially generate an impossible burden on the court system. Charter delay cases will once again rule the courts and be the ultimate adjudicator on who will be prosecuted and who will not. Stay applications will be the norm.

Quite possibly, due to the punitive dimensions of such an automatic disqualification, impaired driving trials will need to be heard within 30 days, thereby re-prioritizing cases in the system. The priorities will not be based on the seriousness of the issue but will be controlled by provincial administrative suspensions.

Whether or not this is an appropriate allocation of public resources will add an interesting twist to this new legislation. Whether or not the public will cheer this prioritizing of such cases over more serious cases, such as violent crimes, will be seen. It is clear however that this new amendment will have heavy social costs for all Albertan citizens.

Tomorrow, I will take a deeper look at the legal issues arising out of this proposal.