Changes to Drinking and Driving Legislation

On December 18, 2018, Parliament made significant changes to drinking and driving laws. Filkow Law’s Anthony Robinson wrote and presented a paper explaining these changes to the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia on September 24, 2021. This is the first instalment of this paper, explaining the changes to drinking and driving legislation in BC.

Changes to Drinking and Driving Legislation

The following is an excerpt regarding two major changes to the language in the Criminal Code–“motor vehicle, vessel, an aircraft or railway equipment” is now “conveyance” and “forthwith” is now “immediately”:

The amendments were designed to simplify, clarify, and modernize the cumbersome language from the predecessor sections. The most obvious of these changes is the use of the term “conveyance” instead of the awkward phrase “motor vehicle, vessel, an aircraft or railway equipment” which was frequently repeated throughout the predecessor sections. This change makes the provisions much easier to read.

Another goal of the amendments was to change the language of the provisions to reflect the interpretations of the courts where possible. As one example, in section 320.27 which, allows the police to make an Approved Screening Device demand at the roadside, the term “forthwith” has been replaced with the term “immediately”. This change reflects how the term “forthwith” has been interpreted by the courts. It is also an example where the language has been modernized with more plain language text.

Alcohol Screening Provisions s. 320.27(2): ASD Demand

The following is an excerpt regarding the new police power to make roadside breath demands without reasonable suspicion of alcohol in the driver’s body. Mr. Robinson also explains issues with regards to the possession of the screening device and the timing of the test:

Although the changes made by the 2018 amendments are significant, the general structure of the legislation remains the same. Parliament has maintained the two-step process for the detection and enforcement of driving in excess of the legal blood alcohol limit. Like the predecessor legislation, the first step provides for the administration of a screening test at or near the roadside immediately after the interception of an operator. The second step provides for a breathalyser test into an Approved Instrument at a police station.

The threshold test for making an Approved Screening Device (ASD) demand at the roadside has changed significantly. Under the predecessor section, the police were required to have “reasonable suspicion of alcohol in the body” before making an Approved Screening Device demand. That remains the case under s. 320.27(1).

However, under s. 320.27(2), the police also now have the authority to demand a driver provide a sample of breath into an ASD without any suspicion that a driver has been drinking. Under the heading “Mandatory Alcohol Screening” s. 320.27(2) states:

320.27(2) If a peace officer has in his or her possession an approved screening device, the peace officer may, in the course of the lawful exercise of powers under an Act of Parliament or an Act of a provincial legislature or arising at common law, by demand, require the person who is operating a motor vehicle to immediately provide the samples of breath that, in the peace officer’s opinion, are necessary to enable a proper analysis to be made by means of that device and to accompany the peace officer for that purpose.

At least three Provincial Court decisions have held that section 320.27(2) passes constitutional muster. In R v Blysniuk, 2020 ONCJ 603 the Ontario Court of Justice found s. 320.27(2) violates sections 8 and 9 of the Charter but those violations are saved by section 1. In R v Morrison, 2020 SKPC 28 and R v Kortmeyer, 2021 SKPC 10 the Saskatchewan Provincial Court found s. 320.27(2) does not violate s. 9, but it does violate s. 8, and that violation is saved by s. 1.

There are three requirements for a valid demand under s. 320.27(2).

  1. The demand must be made in the course of the lawful exercise of police powers;
  2. The demand must be made by a peace officer who has an ASD in their possession.
  3. The demand must be made, and the test must be administered – immediately.

With respect to the first of these criteria, the police have always had the power to randomly stop drivers for safety and compliance reasons like checking for driver’s licenses, insurance, mechanical fitness, and driver sobriety. These stops have long been held constitutional.[1] Under s. 320.27(2) the police now also have the authority during a traffic stop to ask the driver to blow into an ASD in the absence of any belief the driver has consumed alcohol.

With respect to the requirement that the officer has the ASD in their possession, in R v Bath, 2021 CanLII 35120 the Newfoundland Provincial Court concluded that it was not necessary for an officer to have the ASD on their person for a lawful demand under s. 320.27(2). The accused argued that the demand made by an officer was invalid because another officer got the ASD out of the trunk of the police vehicle, unboxed it, readied the device and administered it to the accused. The court concluded that it was not necessary for an officer to have the ASD on them to legally avail themselves of s. 320.27(2). At para. 34 the court said:

As a matter of law, possession includes joint possession. The ASD was in the trunk of the police car, and both police officers had both knowledge and control of the ASD. Cst. Crann was, as a result, in possession of the ASD. As a result, I conclude that Cst. Crann’s demand for ASD breath test(s) was valid, despite the fact that the ASD was in the trunk of the police car when he made the demand.

The Alberta Transportation Safety Board considered the immediacy and possession requirement in R v MacDougall (Re), 2020 ABTSB 2264. In that case, a police officer witnessed the driver throw a cigarette out of the driver’s side window while swerving his truck from side to side. The officer stopped the vehicle and asked the driver to wait while he called another officer to bring an ASD. The ASD arrived 5 minutes after the accused was pulled over and the officer read the accused the ASD demand under s. 320.27(2). The accused was then arrested for refusing to provide a sample and issued a license suspension under the Alberta Traffic Safety Act.

The demand was invalid. The Board found the immediacy requirement under section 370.27(2) requires that the process be “minimally intrusive and as prompt as possible under the circumstances”. In this case, the driver was already detained by the time the second officer arrived with the ASD and read the demand. Therefore, the breath demand was not “immediate”. At para. 21 the Board said:

In the matter at hand, the Board finds that the MAS [Mandatory Alcohol Screening] demand was not made immediately and was, therefore, invalid. Although Cst. McIsaac may have been the one to read the demand to the Appellant upon his arrival, the Appellant had already been detained by Cst. McDougall for the purpose of conducting a MAS. The immediacy requirement of an MAS demand pertains to the detainee and to the length and purpose of their detention. It does not relate to the police officer who verbalizes the demand, and the promptness with which they do so.

The fact that the police officer who eventually read the demand had the ASD in his possession was immaterial.

The Alberta Transportation Safety Board came to a similar conclusion in Kalyn-Bekevich (Re), 2020 ABTSB 1940 and excluded the evidence of the breath sample under s. 24(2) of the Charter.

ASD Demand: Summary

In summary, an officer does not need to physically possess the ASD at the time of the demand. Having the device in a nearby vehicle is sufficient. Possession includes joint possession by another officer at the scene. The promptness with which an officer can administer the test will inform the analysis about whether the officer possessed the device at the time of the demand. If a first ASD malfunctions, use of another ASD may be lawful as long as the switching of the devices does not result in delay.[2]

[1] See R v Dedman, [1985] 2 SCR 2, R v Hufsky, [1988] 1 SCR 621 and R v Ladouceur, [1990] 1 SCR 1257.

[2] Bender (Re), 2019 ABTSB 1752.

If you need legal assistance, the lawyers at Filkow Law have over 50 years of experience dealing with all types of criminal law and driving law cases. Please feel free to give us a call.

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