An uneasy Balance

December 01, 2009
The recent proposal by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the House of Commons Justice Committee to require roadside screening for all drivers, even if police do not have reason to suspect they have been drinking alcohol, is disturbing.

There is already random screening for impaired drivers. Police set up RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) checks in communities across Canada, sometimes advertising their plans, sometimes not. The courts have upheld this method of screening as being constitutional, as a breath sample is not required unless a police officer has reason to suspect the driver has been drinking. For most people the RIDE check is a momentary inconvenience.

This proposed law would require drivers to provide a breath sample even if police do not have reason to believe they are impaired. MADD says countries with similar laws have seen a decrease in impaired driving and that such laws save lives. Of course, a country with the death penalty for drunk drivers would also see a decrease in the crime – and certainly no repeat offenders, but how far do we go with enforcement procedures?

It is safe to say everyone is opposed to drunk driving – but there are civil liberty issues involved. There is the presumption of innocence and the right to not self incriminate. That may seem odious when we’re talking about a crime such as drunk driving, but it is hypocritical to hold principles and apply them only when convenient. Could such random testing be legally challenged as an unreasonable search and seizure? Or would the courts uphold such a law as a reasonable and demonstrably justified infringement on our rights? The problem, as always, is the definition of reasonable and demonstrably justified.

With the members of MADD I am in favour of making our streets safer. However, I think this proposed legislation goes too far.  

What do you think?