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Alberta impaired driving victims applaud Mandatory Alcohol Screening in Ontario

Mandatory Alcohol Screening has been in place in Alberta for the past few years and a move by the Ontario Provincial Police to begin enforcing breath samples at all traffic stops is being applauded by local victims of impaired driving.

“Doing this every traffic stop is possibly saving a family from the pain and grief we’re going through right now,” said Diana Derowin.

“We need to be doing this. I know police don’t do this all the time and I think the charges should happen automatically. With routine traffic stops, it’s catching these people before they kill somebody else.”

Derowin’s family has felt the negative effects of impaired driving on three occasions.

Her father was permanently injured, her cousins were left orphaned and her daughter died nearly three years ago due to an impaired driver.

Makayla Poland was 28 years old when she was hit by an impaired driver on June 8, 2021, just west of Okotoks.

Derowin says she lost her best friend and still can’t imagine life without her.

“She was my right hand, my last daughter and every single day, it’s been a struggle,” Derowin said.

Since 2018 when Bill C-46 came into effect, police across the country have been able to demand a breath sample from anyone they pull over for a traffic stop, even if there is no suspicion the driver is intoxicated.

Aaron Libby, president of MADD Calgary, suffered a brain injury after he was struck head-on by an impaired driver in July 2013.

He says it’s about time other provinces started following suit.

“It’s 100 per cent preventable and people always think, even myself, ‘Oh, it’ll never happen to me,’ but I’m a survivor who went through the devastation of losing employment and the ability to do most of my day-to-day activities for many years,” Libby said.

Following the first year of MAS in Calgary, police collected more than 15,600 breath samples, resulting in 142 Criminal Code charges and 359 provincial sanctions.

In a statement sent to CTV News, Calgary police say if an officer decides to read the MAS rules, the driver is required to provide a breath sample.

“It isn’t mandatory for the officer to read the MAS demand at every traffic stop. Officers are encouraged to use MAS in a manner that is consistent for their regular routine. It is still up to the discretion of the officer and availability of the screening device,” the statement read.

“If a roadside demand is read by an officer, and the driver refuses or fails to comply with the demand, then the driver will face the same punishment as if they were to fail the breath sample.”

From 2021 to 2023, Calgary police issued 6,521 Immediate Roadside Sanctions (IRS), which are applied when a driver is suspected of having a blood alcohol content of 0.05 to 0.08.

Depending on whether it is the driver’s first or a subsequent offence, the sanctions are as follows:

An immediate driving suspension for three to 30 days;

Vehicle seizure for three to seven days;

A fine of $300 to $1,200 plus a victim fine surcharge; and

Participation in an education course.

From 2021 to 2023, there were 4,486 IRS fails in Calgary, which are applied when a driver fails an alcohol or drug test within two hours of operating a vehicle.

It is the most serious sanction and may be imposed if a test is refused.

The sanctions for this offence are:

A 90-day immediate driving suspension;

Vehicle seizure for 30 days;

A fine of $1,000 to $2,000 plus a victim fine surcharge;

Participation in Alberta’s Ignition Interlock Program for 12 months, 36 months or life; and

Participation in an education course.

Defence lawyer Ian Savage says many Calgarians should be more aware of these rules around mandatory alcohol screening.

“I find that almost every person that calls me once they received these provincial sanctions at the roadside from the police are completely unaware of the program,” he said.

Other groups have begun taking issue with the OPP changes requiring breath samples at all traffic stops, including Shakir Rahim, director of the criminal justice program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

He says as the new measures do not require officers to have reason to request a breathalyzer test, they are unjustifiable.

“This is an unjustified power to interrupt someone’s life without any suspicion [that] they have done something wrong,” Rahim said.

“That’s not acceptable.” 

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