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Initiatives to Strengthen Impaired Driving Laws

Despite important progress, impaired driving continues to be a serious problem in Canada with wide-ranging and tragic consequences for victims, their families and communities as a whole.

The Government of Canada, by strengthening impaired driving laws in 1999 and 2000, has taken clear decisive steps towards eliminating tragedies on highways and roads caused by impaired drivers. The governments commitment to ensuring that the criminal law fulfils its role, in combination with other measures aimed at eradicating impaired driving, has resulted in a combination of counter-measures that send the clear message that impaired driving will not be tolerated.

In 1998, the House of Commons directed the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to review the impaired driving provisions in the Criminal Code. The purpose of the Committees review was to propose amendments to the Code that would enhance deterrence and ensure that penalties reflect the seriousness of the offence.

On May 25, 1999, the Committee tabled its report, Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving. The government has since implemented all of the Committees ten recommendations for specific Criminal Code changes. It did so in Bill C-82 in 1999 and Bill C-18 in 2000.

Under the current strengthened law:

  • the maximum penalty for impaired driving causing death has been increased from 14 years to life imprisonment
  • fines for first time impaired driving convictions have been doubled from $300 to $600;
  • mandatory minimum driving prohibition periods have been significantly increased, from three months to one year for a first offence, six months to two years for a second offence, and from one year to three years on a subsequent offence;
  • judges, at the time of sentencing, are now required to consider as an aggravating factor, a blood alcohol level exceeding twice the criminal offence level.
  • judges may require the use of an ignition interlock as a condition of probation, where such a program is available;
  • judges may require an offender to take treatment for alcohol addiction as a condition of probation;
  • police investigating a collision involving injury or death can apply by telephone for a warrant to obtain a blood sample from a driver believed to be drug-impaired;
  • police now have three hours, instead of two hours, to demand a breath or blood sample from a driver who they believe on reasonable grounds to be impaired;
  • the maximum penalty for driving while prohibited has been raised from two years to five years imprisonment; and
  • offences were created for leaving the scene of a collision knowing there was a death or an injury.

At the request of stakeholders the Minister of Justice, the Honourable Anne McLellan has asked the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to revisit the issue of whether it is advisable to amend the Criminal Code to lower the blood-alcohol level for criminal driving offences from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (.08) to 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (.05)

The Minister has also asked a federal/provincial/territorial working group of justice officials to investigate the broader issue of drug impaired driving and also to look at ways of improving the Criminal Codes provisions regarding the enforcement and the prosecution of impaired driving offences.

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Department of Justice
December 2001

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