Evan Saugstad: Should public safety trump personal rights in random roadside checks?

saugstad

In June, the Senate concluded its debate on Bill C-46, the Impaired Driving Act, and sent it back to Parliament for its consideration and passage into law. 

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What’s interesting about Bill C-46 is that the Senate removed a clause proposed by the Trudeau government that would allow police officers to randomly stop any vehicle, at any time, completely at their discretion and demand that the driver give a breath sample to determine if they exceed the blood-alcohol limit. 

Initially, and after much debate, the Senate removed this clause, but a Liberal Senator proposed to add this clause back into the bill. The final vote on including this clause was a tie, which meant it was defeated. Interestingly, the vote crossed party lines with Senators from all major parties voting both for and against.

In normal times, one would think the extensive debate in the Senate as well as the controversial nature of this bill would be enough for the Trudeau government to accept the Senate findings and move on. That is not the case.

 The federal justice minister has stated she will add this clause back into the final legislation, as it’s the centrepiece of their government’s “war on impaired drivers,” and public safety trumps personal rights. 

Although the Senate vote was a tie, those opposed did so based on their view that it was unconstitutional and violates the Charter of Human Rights. They also expressed concern that if it was included, this clause would face all kinds of challenges and further tie up our courts while it’s constitutionality was determined.

At first blush, one might say, why not? Getting impaired drivers off the road is what this is all about. I agree with getting impaired drivers off the road and reducing the number of accidents they cause. But giving our police unfettered powers to stop anyone they so choose is not in any of our best interests.

The current law requires that a police officer must first observe some behaviour such as speeding, erratic driving, or running a red light as a reason to stop a vehicle, other than at a roadside check where all vehicles can be stopped and checked.

Much has been made that this change could lead to the racial profiling or targeting of certain citizens. That could happen, as an officer wouldn’t need to give any reason as to why they’ve stopped someone. 

I have other concerns. What else can an officer do once they have you stopped? If they just happen to see something else, will this be treated similarly to what happens if an officer comes to your door to talk to you, and then, in the background sees something they believe to be illegal, and acts without requiring a search warrant? 

What happens if the police officer sees a cell phone on the seat or dash? Can they ask to inspect it to see if it has recently been used? After all, distracted driving has now passed impaired driving as the number one cause of vehicle accidents.

What happens if you’re a hunter and have a gun on the back seat, and that officer, standing alone in the dark of the night, flips out and demands you get out of the car while they search this weapon and your hunting gear, and check to ensure you have all necessary papers and permits? 

Will late night workers routinely be stopped and checked? The list could go on.

It’s noble to believe that no one should break any law and that we shouldn’t be afraid of an officer checking on us at any time, for any reason. But that’s not how Canada operates. Our justice system is based on the principle of innocence — until you’re proven guilty. 

In my simplistic view, having officers presuppose you are guilty of a crime and then make you prove that you are not, is how police states around the world operate. We are not a police state and we should never allow any law to move us in that direction. 

Getting impaired and distracted drivers off the roads, and reducing or eliminating a whole host of other crimes, is important to our federal government. A much simpler way to accomplish this is to hire more officers. That would allow our over-worked police forces to do their jobs better and make Canada a safer place to live.

If these controversial provisions of Bill C-46 concern you, let your MP, Prime Minister and Minister of Justice know what your concerns are. It can all help. 

And that’s my parting comment. From up here, and my point of view, the world is still flat.

Evan Saugstad lives in Fort St. John. 

© Copyright 2018 Alaska Highway News

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