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By Jordan W. Charness

Last week, I spoke about the various levels of government that can enact anti-drinking and driving legislation. Just a few weeks ago, the province of Québec floated a trial balloon talking about various possible changes to Québec’s administrative powers in dealing with people who have had an alcoholic beverage before getting behind the wheel of a car.

Québec has decided to propose lowering the maximum blood alcohol count to .05. If caught, you’ll get an automatic licence suspension of 24 hours and have your car towed away. This raises some interesting legal questions, in that you are judged to be guilty and must pay the penalty right there on the spot before a judge will ever have a chance to hear your case. In essence you’ll end up being judged by a breathalyser machine. If perchance you find some way of proving at a later date that you really did not have anything alcoholic to drink it will be too late because you will already have paid the penalty.

Québec is also talking about focusing on the psychology of drunk drivers and getting them the counselling they need to help ensure that they do not offend again. Quebec may also increase the amount of time motorists will lose their driving licences if they are convicted of the criminal offence of drunk driving, but this driving prohibition will only be effective in the province of Quebec.

In theory, if a new Québec rule comes into force that takes away your driver’s licence for a period of, let’s say, 18 months because you’re caught with more than the legal limit of blood alcohol, you would lose your licence here but still be allowed to apply for a driver’s licence in Ontario after the federally mandated suspension of one-year (in some cases) expired. The criminal code may prohibit your driving anywhere in Canada after being found guilty of a drinking and driving offence, but the province can only take away your licence to drive in Québec.

The third level that deals with drinking and driving offences is actually not a government level at all. The court system and the judges are the ones who decide how to interpret the laws passed by our lawmakers and exactly what effect they will have on the people brought before them who are alleged to have broken these laws.

It’s the third level, the court system, which often has the final say on how exactly a person who breaks any of the drinking and driving laws will be punished. It is up to a judge to decide based on the specific details of that case what should be the proper punishment. While the sentences are often controversial, they are based on the judge’s appreciation of the facts after hearing an entire trial and not just a two-minute news report on what happened.

The judge will also take into account the resources available in that particular jurisdiction to rehabilitate and/or punish the offender. In addition the judge will also look at whether or not the person who committed the offence is a first-time offender who was guilty of a grievous error of judgment which led to a crime but would not likely be repeated, or is a notorious scofflaw with a complete disregard for the rules of the road and the dangers of drinking and driving.

The simplest solution might be to ban drinking and driving altogether and enact legislation that calls for a zero-tolerance of drinking alcohol and then getting behind the wheel of a car. Unfortunately such a law would be virtually impossible to enforce. After all, prohibition in the United States in the 1930s didn’t work out at all.

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