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Canada’s new impaired driving laws are now in effect — here’s what to know

Global News logo Global News 12/18/2018 Maham Abedi
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Video courtesy of CityNews

Canada's new impaired driving laws kick in Tuesday, giving law enforcement new powers when it comes to interacting with drivers.

READ MORE: How many drinks is too many under new impaired driving rules?

Alcohol-related impaired driving laws will be updated in the Criminal Code of Canada as of Dec. 18, in order to become comparable with drug-impaired driving laws that were reformed earlier this year.

Changes to both drug and alcohol impaired driving come as part of the former Bill C-46, which aims to make Canada's laws "amongst the strongest in the world."

Here are some key changes:

Mandatory alcohol screening

The new laws will give police officers the authority to demand breathalyzer tests from any driver they pull over. Previously, officers could only test drivers if they had a reasonable suspicion the person was impaired. Any driver who refuses to take the test can be charged.

These stronger laws are similar to ones in several other countries around the world, such as Australia, Denmark, France and Germany. In Ireland, mandatory screening reduced the number of road deaths by about 40 per cent in the first four years it was enforced.

No more 'bolus drinking defence'

Before Dec. 18, drivers could use the "bolus drinking defence," arguing that they consumed alcohol just before driving and it was not absorbed yet.

The new law eliminates this defence, by making it illegal to be at or over the alcohol limit within two hours of being behind the wheel.

READ MORE: Heavy share of Canadian pot users admits to driving within 2 hours of toking up, study says

Updated penalties 

The new law also bumps up the maximum penalties for many alcohol-impaired driving offences.

Formerly, the mandatory minimum fines were: $1,000 for first offence, 30 days imprisonment for second offence, and 120 days in jail for a third offence.

These are the penalties now:

First offence, with blood alcohol content of 80-119 mg: mandatory minimum $1,000 fine

First offence, with blood alcohol content of 120-159 mg: mandatory minimum $1,500 fine

First offence, with blood alcohol content of 160 mg or more: mandatory minimum $2,500 fine

First offence, but refuse to be tested: mandatory minimum $2,000 fine

Second offence: mandatory minimum 30 days imprisonment

Third or more offence: mandatory minimum 120 days imprisonment

Maximum penalties for impaired driving causing no bodily harm or death: summary conviction carries two years less a day imprisonment, indictment carries 10 years imprisonment

Maximum penalties for impaired driving causing bodily harm: Summary conviction for less severe injuries carries two years less a day imprisonment, indictment carries 14 years imprisonment

Maximum penalty impaired driving causing death: life imprisonment

Criticism of new laws

While the new laws have been welcomed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, several groups have raised concerns.

Toronto-based lawyer Michael Engel, who often defends those charged with impaired driving, said the new rules are a big change that raise concerns about baseless searches.

"This is a radical departure from previous law, which insulated people against warrantless searches without probable cause," he said.

Civil rights organizations have also sounded alarms about the new rules, with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association expressing concern that mandatory alcohol screening will unfairly affect racial minorities who are disproportionately singled out by cops for traffic stops.

Impaired driving, by the numbers

Last year, there were more than 69,000 police-reported impaired-driving incidents — about 3,500 were related to drugs.

In 2016, there were more than 70,00 such incidents, and 3,000 were drug-related.

According to federal statistics, an average of almost four people die in Canada daily due to impaired driving.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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