Follow Up To Yesterday's Post

For further clarification, the proposed Alberta regime requires the administrative tribunal sitting on an appeal of an automatic roadside suspension, resulting from a "warn," to consider the certificate of annual maintenance of the approved screening device and the records of the last calibration of the device. On the basis of those documents, the police report, and any other relevant evidence, either sworn or unsworn, the tribunal must be satisfied that the driver consumed alcohol with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or over .05 at any time within 3 hours after having driven a motor vehicle, before confirming the licence suspension.

In the case of a "fail," where the BAC would be at or over .08, and would therefore trigger the Criminal Code process as well, the administrative appeal board would also consider any certificate of analysis pursuant to s.258 of the Criminal Code and any other relevant evidence. In other words, the appeal hearing would not be unlike trying the matter before the criminal courts except that the process is civil and the standard of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt but a lower standard of balance of probabilities.

The B.C. regime differs significantly as discussed in the main blog and there is no ability to argue that the approved roadside screening device is faulty. In B.C., there has been significant issues with the roadside devices used.

The Alberta Response to the Partial Unconstitutionality of the British Columbia Impaired Driving Regime

Yesterday, in Sivia v. British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles)the British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Sigurdson struck down portions of the amendments to the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act. The amendments in question related to the "automatic roadside prohibition" or ARP, imposed when a B.C. driver was stopped by police under the suspicion of drinking and driving.

The legislation permitted ARP based on the "warn" or "fail" of a roadside testing device. A "warn," equivalent to a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of between .05 and .08, would result in immediate suspension of the driver's licence, impoundment of the motor vehicle, and a fine. A "fail" would attract similar sanctions but also the criminal law regime under s.254 of the Criminal Code. 

Appeals of the ARP went to an administrative tribunal, under the auspices of the Ministry of Transportation. According to the legislation, the appeal process was limited to considering whether or not the appellant was the driver and whether or not he/she received a "warn" or "fail" on the roadside device. There was no ability to argue against the suspension outside of those very limited factual parameters.

Justice Sigurdson concluded that the legislation was not contrary to s.11(d), the presumption of innocence protection in the Charter, nor was it contrary to s.(10)b, right to counsel. Similarly, s. 7, right to liberty, arguments were dismissed in a very summarily fashion. However, Justice Sigurdson did find the ARP, as it related to roadside device "fails," to be an unreasonable search and seizure under s.8 of the Charter as the scheme authorizes a warrantless search without procedural legal safeguards, most notably, the lack of a meaningful appeal process at the administrative level. Justice Sigurdson acknowledged that the ARP was civil in nature and not criminal but even so required some level of due process when determining if an ARP was appropriate under the regime.

How does this case impact Alberta's proposed amendments to the Traffic Safety Act?  If you read the media articles, certainly the Alberta government is touting this decision as the "mother of all decisions," which effectively gives the Alberta regime the "seal of approval." Why the boast? Simply put, the Alberta amendments differ in the administrative appeal process and does have those safeguards which created the Charter difficulties in British Columbia. Do you think maybe the Alberta government was aware of this case before they created their amendments? 

Certainly, if the same arguments as in Sivia were brought in Alberta, there would, most likely, be no finding of unconstitutionality. However, that does not mean there are no arguments to be made. I refer to my previous posts on the issue, which suggest other arguments, not argued in Sivia, and which can be found here.

Indeed, Sivia may provide further support for some of the issues raised in previous posts. Although Justice Sigurdson found the ARP regime was regulatory and not criminal in prospect, such differences do not foreclose Charter scrutiny and possible unconstitutionality.

Further, as discussed in the Administrative Tribunals and Duties of Fairness posting, the transportation tribunals hearing the ARP appeals will be under the "fairness" microscope and will need to give each appeal full and fair consideration or be subject to judicial review. Such considerations would include whether or not the licence was suspended contrary to the Charter and/or Charter values, even though the tribunal itself has no true remedial powers under the Charter. This is a heavy burden indeed. Particularly as the members of the tribunal do not necessarily have any legal training. 

In the end, the Alberta government's response appears to be slightly premature and overly confident. What is clear is this: the B.C. case will not end the legal concerns with this legislation.

 

The Charter And The New Alberta Impaired Drivings Laws: Going Beyond Driving Is Privilege

Our discussion of the tabled Alberta impaired driving rules continues with a look at the legal arguments which may be available under the Charter. At first glance, it appears the case law shuts down any Charter argument based on a review of a myriad of cases, across the provinces, upholding similar legislation.

Even the Alberta Court of Appeal, in the 2003 Thomson case, comes down strongly in favour of this kind of provincial legislation. Thomson upholds the legislation, despite division of powers arguments and claims of Charter violations under s.7, s. 11(d), and s.13, on the basis the legislation is valid provincial legislation, which is purely administrative in nature and therefore imposes a civil sanction as opposed to a criminal penalty. Furthermore, driving, as a licensed regime, not essential to a person's liberty interest, is a privilege and not a right under s.7. Finally, there is great public interest in preventing "carnage on the highways" from drinking and driving.

Despite the above authorities, I would suggest there are still valid Charter claims, which can be brought before a Court depending on the facts of a particular case. As touched upon in yesterday's blog, the automatic, immediate, and indefinite suspension of a driver's license of an offender charged with impaired driving under the Criminal Code as a result of the new scheme, could result in heavy burdens on the administration of justice to have impaired/over 80 cases heard in a speedy manner.

Other provincial legislations place a time limit on these roadside provincial suspensions: typically the maximum suspension is 90 days. The Alberta legislation suspends the licence until the criminal matters are disposed, a time period dependent on the timeliness of the trial. Thus, an unreasonable delay argument under s.11(b) of the Charter may result in those cases where the criminal justice system is unable to provide a timely trial. It may be safely argued that considering the escalating time limited suspensions elsewhere, depending on if the matter is a first offence, a trial may be unreasonably delayed if not heard within 7 days, thirty days, sixty days, and in the most serious scenarios, ninety days. 

There are many factors a court must consider in deciding whether a trial has been unreasonably delayed due to the Charter. Certainly, pursuant to the Askov case, systemic delay is a primary consideration. Other factors include Crown delay in preparing the matter ready for trial and prejudice to the accused. A lengthy licence suspension, can be highly prejudicial to an accused who may require the licence for employment or who lives in a rural area, where public transit is unavailable. In certain circumstances, albeit fact dependent, a Charter delay claim may be successful. As suggested in the previous blog, such a claim could cause the government to prioritize impaired driving cases over more serious crimes, resulting in inappropriate allocation of public resources.

Another Charter argument, more difficult to argue, but again, depending on an appropriate fact situation, should be argued, is a violation of s. 7 rights. Although, the weight of the authorities appears to be against rearguing the issue, the Supreme Court of Canada, in recent cases such as in PHS CommunityGosselin, and Khadr, have expanded the definition of right to liberty under s.7.

Indeed, starting as early as a decade ago, in the 2000 Blencoe case, the SCC has, cautiously and incrementally, moved toward a much more expansive definition by not restricting the definition of liberty to "mere freedom from physical restraint." Liberty may be restricted when the government interferes in an individual's right to make "profoundly personal choices" which impact their independence, self-worth, and self-identity as a person.

As stated in Gosselin, such liberty interests are triggered by an individuals' interaction with the justice system in the broadest way, such as any "adjudicative context." This would include the administrative scheme under whose authority the licence is suspended.

It can, therefore, be argued that a driver's licence for an adult in today's world is a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood and is integral to an individual's identity and self-worth. The independence a licence bestows upon an individual is not about mere movement from place to place, but includes highly personal choices of where one can move and at what time. Consider the great impact a loss of license has upon the cognitive disabled and the elderly and the argument becomes even more cogent.

The legislation is therefore vulnerable to Charter rights. Tomorrow, I will discuss other areas of legal concern, outside of the pure Charter arena.