Impaired driving law upheld in Alta. (September 11, 2001)

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CALGARY, Alta. — Albertans accused of drunk driving can be slapped with 90-day licence suspensions even if their criminal impaired driving charges are dropped or dismissed, a judge ruled yesterday.

The province’s anti-drunk driving law — which mirrors legislation in other provinces — does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because driving is a privilege, not a right, Justice Frans Slatter ruled.

The Court of Queen’s Bench judge also ruled Alberta’s licence suspension program is independent of criminal charges because it deters drunk drivers to ensure public safety.

“Any deterrent effect of the suspensions is a part of a legitimate program of highway safety,” says Slatter in his ruling. Even though the judgment came down on three separate cases, it affects 270 Albertans who have challenged the suspension program under the Traffic Safety Act.

Under the 1999 law, licences of drivers who are charged with impaired driving or refusing to provide breath samples are suspended for 90 days. If the charge is impaired driving causing bodily harm or death, licences are automatically suspended for six months.

Such drivers are then granted 21-day temporary licences — time to get their business in order before their licences are yanked.

Ian Savage, a Calgary criminal defence lawyer representing 55 clients who challenged the law, says he plans to launch an appeal.

“We feel it is a law that is more in the nature of criminal law rather than regulation of the highways and therefore is outside the ambit of the province to pass laws in,” explains Savage. “The ability to drive, which is so often tied to a person’s ability to earn a living, has now become essentially a right. We feel there is a violation of a person’s right under the Charter.”

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