Legal Blood Alcohol Limit & Timing of Blood Alcohol Reading in BC

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 second instalment of this paper, explaining the new legal blood alcohol limit in BC, and timing of the blood alcohol reading.

Legal Blood Alcohol Limit is Now 79 mgs%

The following is an excerpt regarding a change in the legal blood alcohol limit:

Under the previous regime, it was an offence to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in excess of 80mgs% (80 mgs of alcohol in 100ml of blood). It is now unlawful to have a BAC “equal to or exceeding” 80 mgs%. The new formulation was a response caused by rounding down BAC results to the nearest 10th mg%.[1]

Time of the Blood Alcohol Reading

The following is an excerpt outlining how the scope of the offence has expanded from the time of driving to within two hours of the time of driving, and how two defences have been eliminated:

One of the most significant changes to the legislation is that a driver’s BAC no longer needs to be in excess of the legal limit at the time the driver had care and control of the conveyance. It is now an offence to be in excess of the legal limit within two hours of operating a motor vehicle. The predecessor legislation made it an offence to have a BAC in excess of the legal limit at the time of driving. This meant there had to be a temporal overlap between a BAC in excess of the legal limit and the time of driving. That overlap no longer applies.

Section 320.14(1)(b) states:

Everyone commits an offence who

(b) subject to subsection (5), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration that is equal to or exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood;

The curious impact of this change is that the elements of the offence of being in excess of the legal BAC limit no longer has to overlap in time with the element of care and control. Without subsection (5), this amendment would allow someone to be convicted of an over .08 offence because their BAC was in excess of the legal limit within 2 hours of driving, even though their BAC was below the legal limit at the time of driving. Thankfully the definition is subject to the limitations prescribed in subsection 320.14(5) which states:

(5) No person commits an offence under paragraph (1)(b) if

(a) they consumed alcohol after ceasing to operate the conveyance;

(b) after ceasing to operate the conveyance, they had no reasonable expectation that they would be required to provide a sample of breath or blood; and

(c) their alcohol consumption is consistent with their blood alcohol concentration as determined in accordance with subsection 320.31(1) or (2) and with their having had, at the time when they were operating the conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration that was less than 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood.

This new definition defeats two defences: bolus drinking; and the intervening drinking defence.

Bolus drinking refers to situations where a driver claims they consumed alcohol just before or during driving, but they were not over the legal limit at the time of driving because the alcohol was not fully absorbed in their blood until the time of testing. Because the bolus drinker did not consume alcohol after ceasing to operate the conveyance, they can not avail themselves of the exception prescribed in subsection 320.14(5)(a).

The intervening drinking defence is usually advanced when there has been a motor vehicle accident. The defence refers to situations where the driver claims they consumed alcohol after an accident such that they were over the legal limit after the accident but not at the time of driving. This defence is eliminated under the new definition by the operation of subsection 5(b), which provides that it is not an offence to be in excess of the legal limit within 2 hours of driving if the driver had a reasonable expectation they would be required to provide a sample of breath or blood.

It is difficult to conceive of all the circumstances in which a driver would reasonably be expected to provide a sample of breath or blood. However, being involved in a motor accident can be one of them.

This is reflected in R v Mair, [2019] OJ No 2215. In that case, the police received a report that a vehicle drove into a tree then left the scene. The police followed a trail of radiator fluid from the scene to a driveway. When the police questioned the accused, he confessed to driving the vehicle. The accused was arrested and taken to the police detachment and provided a sample in excess of the legal limit.

The accused gave a defence of intervening drinking. He testified at trial that he consumed two pints of beer at a pub prior to the accident. After the accident, he returned home and drank 60-70% of a bottle of whiskey. The accused said he was shaken from the accident, so he drank that amount in about 25 minutes.

This case pre-dated the 2018 amendments as the offence was alleged to have occurred in 2017. However, the court commented in obiter about whether under the new provisions the accused would have had a reasonable expectation to provide a breath sample in the circumstances. The court conclude that a driver who got into an accident would have difficulty establishing they did not have a reasonable expectation to provide a sample. At para. 38 the court stated:

I would note the recent amendments to the Criminal Code which provide new specific rules governing post-driving alcohol consumption. Under the new s. 320.14(5), Mr. Mair would have been required, in order to succeed in his defence, to establish that he had no reasonable expectation that he would be required to provide a sample of his breath. Given the fact that he had just been involved in an accident, Mr. Mair would have considerable difficulty establishing that. He would also have had to provide toxicological evidence to establish a BAC consistent with post-driving consumption.

Similarly, in Madadi-Farsijani, 2021 ONCJ 196 the accused put forward a defence of intervening drinking. The accused drank one beer with a friend then drove home. On the way home, the accused rear-ended a vehicle. He testified the collision caused him to have a flashback to a prior traumatic driving experience in Iran. Upset by the flashback, the accused grabbed one of the bottles of whiskey he purchased earlier in the day and drank about 10 ounces prior to exiting the vehicle. He left the opened bottle on the front passenger seat while the other unopened bottle remained on the rear floor of the vehicle.

The court concluded that an intervening drinking defence could not succeed because in the circumstances of this accident it was reasonable to expect the accused would be required to provide a sample.[2] At paras. 28 and 29 the court stated:

Mr. Madadi-Farsijani testified that after causing a collision on a major highway, he consumed a tremendous amount of alcohol. There was visible damage to his own vehicle. The other driver quickly confirmed to the defendant that the police would be called as an obvious consequence. On any standard, I find it was only reasonable to expect that a breath test was required in the circumstances.

[1] Backgrounder for former Bill C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, p 23.

[2] In Madadi-Farsijani, the accused also filed a constitutional challenge to the Over .08 provision on the basis the section violates ss. 7 and 11(d) of the Charter. The court deferred dealing with the constitutional challenge until it determined the accused’s guilt under the existing provisions. To date, the Charter application has yet to be heard. In R v Kaur, 2020 ONCJ 538 the accused filed a Charter application regarding ss. 320.14(1)(b) and 320.31(1). Due to a scheduling conflict, the Charter challenge was deferred to the end of trial. The challenge has yet to be heard.

If you exceeded the blood alcohol limit while driving and 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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