By Jordan W. Charness
It’s funny how the same problem can be addressed in different ways in different provinces across Canada. Not only that, we also have the federal government in Ottawa that is entitled to make laws that impact people who may be regulated by both a provincial and federal law.
Drinking and driving is a prime example. According to federal law, under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of more than .08. This law applies anywhere in Canada and if you break it you will have committed a criminal act and lose your right to drive anywhere in Canada for certain period of time and face a jail term and/or a fine.
At the same time, each province regulates the rules that govern how drivers will be allowed to drive on the streets in their jurisdiction. While the criminal code applies Canada-wide, the provincial laws only apply to people driving within those province’s boundaries.
As of August 1, 2010 the province of Ontario took a major step by implementing a law that will impact young and novice drivers alike. While it will still not be a crime to drive with a small amount of alcohol in your bloodstream (under the .08 limit), it will be against the law at least from a provincial standpoint. If you are under the age of 22 or a novice driver and you have any alcohol at all in your bloodstream while you are driving, it will lead to an immediate suspension of your driving privileges for 24 hours. If you are convicted later on of this non-criminal penal infraction, you will then face an additional license suspension of 30 days plus a fine of up to $500.
A second or third offence will lead to increasing amounts to be paid as fines and an increasingly long license suspension. You may even have your licence taken away altogether.
New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Manitoba have similar legislation but Manitoba and Nova Scotia applied it to all drivers regardless of their age for the first five years that they drive. New Brunswick limits its laws to new drivers aged 21 and under.
Québec has similar legislation but it only insists that its drivers comply with zero-tolerance rules for the first two years after getting their licence.
In all the Canadian provinces, the sanctions are almost always fines and a loss of driving privileges. No jail term or criminal record is possible until that Canada-wide, Criminal Code .08 threshold is reached.
All this can be contrasted with some of the Scandinavian countries laws that make it illegal for anybody to drive with any alcohol whatsoever in their bloodstream no matter their age or years of experience. In some countries, the penalty for any type of drinking and driving is a minimum jail term of one year!
All of these different approaches are aimed at one thing. Making sure that those who drive don’t drink, and those who drink don’t drive.