Enforcement of B.C.’s drug-impaired driving regime is under the microscope after a Vancouver Island motorist avoided drug penalties, despite reportedly being caught by police throwing a lit joint from their vehicle.
The alleged incident happened in Saanich earlier this week and landed the driver about $900 in fines — though none related to drugs.
It is an offence to consume cannabis while driving in Canada, as is being impaired while operating a vehicle. Saanich police said the officer at the scene, a drug recognition expert, was satisfied the driver was not impaired.
But Vancouver lawyer Sarah Leamon said the incident highlights a wider issue: B.C. has not handed out a single criminal charge related to pot-impaired driving since cannabis legalization came into force.
“Police in British Columbia have not charged anybody criminally with any type of cannabis-impaired driving offences since the laws have been introduced,” she said.
“Other provinces have seen charges. And I don’t think it’s because British Columbians are extremely diligent and law-abiding, although it would be great if they were, but more having to do with the attitude of, perhaps, police forces around the province.”
In fact, Ontario has seen 100 drivers charged since cannabis legalization, Quebec has seen 32 and Alberta has charged eight.
WATCH: Lawyer explains why drug-impaired driving charges haven’t been laid in B.C. since legalization
B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said those numbers do not tell the whole story.
“People have been ticketed here in British Columbia,” said Farnworth.
But he said when it comes to criminal concerns, B.C.’s bar for approving charges is higher than provinces such as Ontario and requires prosecutors to have “substantial likelihood of conviction.”
Farnworth added there is latitude for officers on the ground to assess every situation on its merits.
“These are decisions that are made by the police based on the circumstances and the evidence they encounter,” he said.
B.C. drivers found to be impaired can face a fine of up to $1,000 for THC blood concentrations between two and five nanograms, while penalties for higher THC concentrations start at $1,000 and climb from there.
Police also have the power to impound a vehicle or suspend a driver’s licence.
Drivers charged and convicted under the Criminal Code for impaired driving face a minimum $1,000 fine and possible jail time.