Quebec rejects coroner’s recommendation to look at .05 blood-alcohol limit

An officer holds a breathalyzer test showing a blood-alcohol reading of .04 in this September 24, 2010 file photo. The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck

Quebec’s transport minister has rejected a call from the coroner to consider reducing the legal blood-alcohol concentration for drivers.

Coroner Yvon Garneau issued the recommendation in a report made public on Tuesday into the October 2021 death near Drummondville, Que., of Stéphanie Houle, 46, a passenger of a car driven by someone whose blood-alcohol level was nearly double the Criminal Code limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

Quebec law uses the same .08 limit, but all other provinces have established a legal limit of .05 or lower — after which drivers could have their licences revoked or face other sanctions. Garneau recommended that the government study the issue and consider amending the Highway Safety Code to bring Quebec in line with other provinces.

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But a spokesperson for Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault said in a statement on Tuesday that the government did not plan on changing the limit of 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.

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“A review of the blood-alcohol limit allowed while driving is not envisaged by our government,” the statement read.

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In an interview Tuesday, Garneau said he doesn’t understand the resistance to lowering the limit and wants to hear a full explanation from the government. Public health officials across Canada have suggested a lower blood-alcohol limit, he said.

Forensic toxicologists have demonstrated that a person’s ability to drive becomes altered when their blood-alcohol concentration reaches 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.

“So if it starts at .05 … it’s as simple as saying, ‘but why wouldn’t we do it here?'” Garneau said.

The driver, Benoit Janvier, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years behind bars after pleading guilty to impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving.He is also banned from driving for five years.

In Garneau’s report, he noted Janvier lost control of his vehicle, which rolled over before striking a tree. He was driving 128 kilometres per hour in a 50 km/h zone.

Garneau recommended the Transport Department take part in a co-ordinated effort with other stakeholders, including the automobile insurance board, to encourage the public to report to police drivers suspected of being impaired by alcohol or drugs.

“I ask the question, how is it that in 2023 we can react like this, that is to say, not react when seeing an individual taking their vehicle in an obvious state of intoxication,” Garneau said.

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Non-profit group Mothers Against Drunk Driving says reducing the blood-alcohol limit is an important safety measure.

“Quebec is the only province in the country that doesn’t have a lower (blood-alcohol concentration) limit,” said Eric Dumschat, legal director with the group. “Generally it’s .05, in Saskatchewan .04.”

He said the available research shows people’s driving ability is somewhat lessened beginning at .05.

Lowering the limit, Dumschat said, is “really trying to help people separate the act of drinking from the act of driving.”

— With files from The Canadian Press’ Pierre Saint-Arnaud

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