The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

Less isn’t necessarily more when it comes to blood alcohol limit

August 29 2017 29 August 2017

If a blood-alcohol limit of 80 mg is an effective deterrent to drinking and driving, a 50 mg limit should be even better, right?

That’s essentially the thinking behind a proposal to limit the criminal blood alcohol concentration limit, but less, in this case, isn’t necessarily more.

That’s because 50 mg indicates the presence of alcohol in the blood but isn’t necessarily an indicator of impairment, says the CBA’s Criminal Justice Section in a letter to Justice Canada. While there is enough evidence of impairment to support a limit of 80 mg, there is “little to no consensus in the scientific community that 50 mg is impairing.”

“While it is certainly permissible for the federal government to decide on the lower level to better respond to the danger posed by drinking drivers, it cannot, in our view, justify that change as something that will effectively detect impaired drivers.”

As well as failing as a deterrent, the measure could only add to the burden that impaired driving charges already place on the justice system, the Section said, noting that “impaired driving is one of the most extensively litigated areas of criminal law, and that volume alone has enormous implications for the system in terms of cost, delay and uncertainty while cases are pending.”

Lowering the BAC limit by 30 mg would add 75,000-100,000 cases to the dockets of Canada’s courts – something to be avoided in a system that is already experiencing a crisis due to court delays.

If the government were to go ahead with the measure, however, the Section suggests that any increase in cases could be dealt with through administrative penalty, rather than through the courts.

“With respect,” the Section concludes, “our view is that Bill C-46 would not result in further trial efficiencies, as the Discussion Paper mentions, and we have raised concerns about the contrary result in our 2016 submission on a similar bill (Bill C-226).”

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