New Police Powers to Seize Vehicles and Impose Fines: Changes to Alberta’s Drinking and Driving Laws
This June a new law was introduced in the Provincial Legislature, called the Provincial Administrative Penalties Act. It was passed in July and it makes a number of changes to drinking and driving laws, giving additional powers to police.
Police will now have the power to immediately take away your vehicle for 30 days, if they have reasonable grounds to believe you are driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. They will also fine you and suspend your license for 90 days plus another year. The penalties are more severe if you have previously contravened the law. For example, a second time offender would have their license suspended for 90 days plus another three years.
If police merely “suspect” that drugs or alcohol have affected your ability to drive, they can seize your vehicle and suspend your license for 24 hours. If police believe you have more than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in your body, but less than the criminal limit, they can issue you a fine, seize your vehicle and suspend your license for three days. Penalties are more severe if you have previously been convicted.
For commercial drivers, there will be a zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol. This means that that if police suspect a commercial driver has consumed any alcohol or drugs at all, police can immediately suspend their licence. There will continue to be a zero tolerance for novice drivers.
Punishment before a chance to dispute
The new law gives Albertans 7 days to dispute the fine and seizure, provided a fee is paid first. Concerns were raised in the legislature that 7 days might not give enough time for people to find a lawyer to assist them. Concerns were also raised that poorer families may not be able to afford the fees to dispute the penalty. Once a dispute has been made, a review must happen within 21 days.
This means the police can take away your vehicle and it could be weeks before you have a chance to get it back, even if you were improperly charged or were charged without any basis at all. Police have the power to impose considerable punishment prior to any judicial review or other oversight.
Although the law was passed in July 2020, it has not yet come into force. The precise date is yet to be set by the government. A number of regulations will be introduced dealing with such things as fines, time to pay and costs to appeal.
So, to some extent, it is unknown how this new law will impact Albertans and what sorts of costs and penalties people are truly facing. For example, do you have to pay for the costs of towing and storing your vehicle if you are charged? If it turns out you were wrongfully charged, will you be reimbursed for those costs?
The regulations, yet to be introduced, may impose additional requirements on people charged, like having to attend mandatory education. The regulations will also specify what type of information the government has to provide to you if you dispute the penalty.
Whether individuals will be able to make full answer and defence to these penalties may be an issue.
The new law doesn’t take away police discretion to charge criminally, even for first time offenders.
The government says the law will be used to divert criminal offences and free up Court, police and prosecutor time, so presumably, some kind of policy or direction will be given to police as to when they should charge criminally and when they should go under the new provincial law. Given that the new provincial law has provisions for repeat offenders, it may be that even a repeat offender is not charged criminally.
Will the law help, or cause more problems?
The government reported that a similar law in B.C. has lead to a decline in drinking and driving injury and death. Some members of the government pointed out that, fortunately, drinking and driving rates were going down anyways. Whether the B.C. law really made a difference was a subject of debate in the Legislative Assembly.
As this new law gives additional police powers, fears over systemic racism and targeting of minorities by police were also raised in the Legislature.
Some members of government wanted more oversight over police. There was a proposal for mandatory data collection of who was being targeted by the new law so we could review who was being stopped and affected by the new law.
Unfortunately, the government chose not enact any requirements on police to report the race or ethnicity of the person being effected by the new law.
If you have any questions about the new law or need any explanation about these changes please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information provided on this website does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. Moustarah & Company does not guarantee that this information is accurate or up to date. As a result, should you require legal advice, please contact a lawyer.