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Manitoba’s new impaired driving laws problematic, Winnipeg lawyer says

Manitoba introduced new impaired driving rules starting Monday.
Manitoba introduced new impaired driving rules starting Monday. Rudi Pawlychyn / Global News

Manitoba introduced new impaired driving laws on Monday, but a Winnipeg lawyer says it’s likely the rules could face legal challenges.

Under the new rules, drivers registering a warning — a blood-alcohol content of .05 to .079 during a roadside test — will be fined $400 for a first offence, $500 for a second and $600 for any subsequent warnings.

They will also have their vehicles impounded for three, seven or 30 days.

Lawyer James Wood says the penalties seem severe for people who may not actually be guilty of impaired driving, or even reaching the new warning level.

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“The approved screening devices essentially can’t differentiate between alcohol in the breath and alcohol in the mouth,” he told 680 CJOB.

READ MORE: Warning gets your car impounded — Manitoba’s new impaired driving laws now in effect

“If there is alcohol in the subject’s mouth, the results will be always be elevated and thus inaccurate, so the cumulative effect is the device would simply add the alcohol exhaled in the lungs with the alcohol in the mouth.

“That risk is that the subject who is under .05 per cent with a minuscule amount of alcohol in the mouth may blow a warn or a fail, and now, just by blowing a warn, you could have vehicle impoundment for three days and all of the monetary penalties.”

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen announces tougher penalties for impaired driving
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen announces tougher penalties for impaired driving

RCMP told 680 CJOB on Monday that the new law gives police the discretion to decide on immediate roadside prohibition or the option to continue to go through the criminal court process.

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said the option of immediate prohibition means impaired drivers can be taken off the road immediately rather than waiting for a potentially lengthy court process.

The new rules were first announced in mid-November. At the time, Cullen said the harsh penalties were necessary consequences for dangerous behaviour, something he reiterated on Monday.

“The strong sanctions in place are yet another good reason to make the right choice and never drive while impaired. Manitoba continues to be a leader in dealing with impaired drivers, and together, we are saving lives,” said Cullen.

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READ MORE: Manitoba getting tougher on impaired drivers under new legislation

According to Wood, the immediate roadside prohibitions are also a concern.

“These new laws created by the province are bordering on creating criminal law, with the average citizen having little or no opportunity to defend themselves when the immediate sanctions are imposed,” he said.

“People could be losing their jobs if they can’t drive to work if they get their vehicle taken away, and they may not even be over the limit.

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“I’m not sure what the public’s acceptance of this is going to be going forward.”

Penalties for those whose test results show impairment — a blood-alcohol content of .08 or higher — or who refuse to take the test are also more severe.

First-time offenders in incidents not involving death, bodily harm or other aggravating circumstances will face a $700 fine and mandatory use of an ignition interlock system.

They will also get an immediate three-month licence suspension and have their vehicles impounded for 30 to 60 days.