A B.C. law firm is claiming victory in a battle over the power of police to hand out 24-hour driving prohibitions to impaired drivers.
A decision rendered in B.C. Supreme Court “essentially limits the authority of police to issue them to only at the roadside,” Acumen Law lawyer Kyla Lee, who argued the case, told CKNW’s The Lynda Steele Show.
B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act empowers police to hand out the 24-hour roadside suspensions to drug- or alcohol-impaired drivers.
However, Lee argued that police have been frequently handing them out, illegally, elsewhere — either at the police department, in a hospital or at another location.
“That never complied with the Motor Vehicle Act. The Motor Vehicle Act says it’s got to be served on a highway or an industrial road,” Acumen lawyer Paul Doroshenko said on CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show.
“Basically, you’re supposed to be serving it to the person to try and stop them from continuing to tool down the road. And it’s been served to people more as punishment, after the fact.”
Lee said the court ruled the prohibitions are illegal on Friday morning.
The ruling does not affect people who are handed suspensions while in their vehicle or at the roadside.
LISTEN: A court ruling today could lead to thousands of 24 hour driving prohibitions being voided
In an emailed statement, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the government would take time to review the ruling.
“But let’s be clear: the vast majority of these 24-hour suspensions are issued by police officers at the roadside, after they’ve formed reasonable grounds to believe that the driver may be affected by drugs,” he said.
That’s a point Lee disputes. She said that more often than not, drivers are being given the suspension after the fact, and away from their vehicles.
“Typically what we’ve been seeing is that police will do their roadside investigation, arrest a person, take them back to the detachment for further testing, and on completion of that testing giving the prohibition,” she said.
Because the ruling is retroactive, it means potentially thousands of people could now fight to have the prohibitions stricken from their records, according to Lee.
She said the ruling will have a major impact on people who have had the prohibitions follow them around, sometimes for years.
“People have had problems crossing the border because there’s a record of a drug-related incident on your driving record… so there’s all these cases of people who have been permanently denied entry to the United States.”
Doroshenko said it could take several weeks for word of the ruling to filter through to every patrol officer in B.C.
But he said its consequences are already in force, something he said the public should be aware of immediately.
“That’s our 4/20 gift to the people of British Columbia,” he said.
“If the police officers pull you over today… and later on they serve you a 24-hour driving prohibition for drugs, it’s likely to be unlawful.”