EDMONTON – An Alberta MP has been found not guilty of failing to provide a breath sample during a police checkstop and is being welcomed back into the governing Conservative fold.
A provincial court judge ruled Peter Goldring wasn’t trying to avoid taking a test, but was simply asking questions that any person in his situation would have asked when officers pulled him over.
“The questions that Mr. Goldring was asking do not suggest he was just buying time,” Edmonton Judge Larry Anderson said in a written decision Thursday.
“He was obviously in a dilemma. The questions were basically those that one might expect a detainee would ask a lawyer if that option were available.”
Goldring said the trial highlighted problems with random roadside checkstop legislation. Police are obliged to wait 15 minutes before administering the test if the detainee has just had a drink and Goldring said the rights of people who have been detained are unclear during that time.
“Many, many people have indecision, they have difficulties understanding what these mean,” he said outside court. “I’m pleased (the judge) has come down in my favour on the judgment.”
Goldring, who represented Edmonton East for the Conservatives, had been sitting as an Independent since leaving the government caucus over the charge.
Outside court, he told reporters it was too early to know his political future, suggesting he could try to cross the floor or even run in Edmonton’s upcoming civic election.
“What happens and where we are with the Conservative caucus, the Liberal caucus, the mayoralty for the city of Edmonton – whatever may be in the future, we’ll determine at a later date,” he said.
But the Prime Minister’s Office put out a statement later Thursday welcoming Goldring back.
“I am pleased that Mr. Goldring’s personal matter has been resolved,” Stephen Harper said in the release. “I spoke to Mr. Goldring this evening and was happy to welcome him back to the Conservative caucus.”
Goldring, 68, admitted he had wine at a Christmas party and a quick beer at a pub before police pulled him over on an Edmonton street in December 2011.
Officers testified at Goldring’s trial that he was snarky and refused to get out of his truck, forcing them to arrest and handcuff him.
Goldring’s lawyer Dino Bottos argued the officers botched the arrest and refused to answer his client’s reasonable questions.
Anderson took pains to emphasize that the police did nothing wrong.
He said the Crown failed to make the case that Goldring intended to break the law.
“I am not satisfied that the Crown has established that Mr. Goldring’s failure to blow was either a conscious decision or a wilful act.”
At the trial, arresting officer Trevor Shelrud described how he stopped Goldring’s vehicle shortly after midnight as it was pulling away from a north-side bar. Goldring admitted to having had a couple of drinks, but Shelrud said he noticed a strong smell of alcohol.
Shelrud testified that Goldring, after an initial conversation, refused to roll his window all the way down for the breath test. The officer said Goldring refused to answer questions and sat behind the locked door of his vehicle and stared straight ahead.
Shelrud notified his supervisor. When that officer arrived, the two both tried to get Goldring to take the test, but he still refused, Shelrud said.
The officers then decided to arrest Goldring.
Goldring testified that the officer told him he was under arrest immediately after stopping him. Goldring said he then agreed to the breath test, but was told to wait 15 minutes because he had just had alcohol.
Goldring testified the officer waited only five minutes and the MP was concerned it was too soon to blow into the machine. He said the officer repeatedly refused his request to call a lawyer.
“I wanted to know some information, I wanted to know what happens when other things happen, and I was promised by initial officers that the sergeant would be there shortly and he would answer any and all questions that I had. That’s what we were in the process of doing when they jumped the gun,” he said outside court.
Anderson emphasized the trial was not about impaired driving.
“No witness in this trial claimed to observe any symptoms of impairment,” he wrote. “This trial is about a failure to comply promptly with police directions and it engages the fundamental questions of when a suspect’s indecision at the roadside becomes a criminal act.”
Goldring said he will follow through on efforts to reform the legislation under which he was charged.
“It’s very much on the table,” he said.
“The little bit that I’ve reviewed of this judge’s dissertation substantiates the need for some clarity, substantiates the need to take a look at it. No law is perfect.”