The Harper government is determined to erode the Charter of Rights protection against unreasonable search.
Their latest assault is found in the discussion paper on drunk driving legislation.
While many of the proposed changes in the discussion paper are long-overdue, the Dept of Justice is also proposing that police be allowed to search drivers for intoxication at random and without reasonable cause.
Their reasoning for this is that since Australia, New Zealand, and 22 European countries violate their citizen’s right to be protected against unreasonable search, so should Canada.
By that rationale we should also eat shit because a million flys can’t be wrong!
Random breath testing (RBT) is different than the Reduced Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) program that we are all familiar with.
In the RIDE program, police stop all cars at a particular checkpoint but only administer breath tests if they subsequently have reasonable cause to do so. This screeening is consistent with our Charter Rights and has proven to be effective in cutting down on drunk driving.
However, the government is now proposing to search drivers for intoxication without reasonable cause.
The discussion paper suggests that RBT is necessary because relying on the judgement of police is a weakness in the current system of detecting drunk drivers.
However, if we cannot rely on the good judgement of police today, will we abandon jury trials tomorrow because we cannot rely on the good judgement of jurors? What about the reliance on the good judgement of judges?
In fact our entire legal system rests on good judgement in combination with Charter Rights – and that is a good thing.
The Charter recognizes that our Rights need to be balanced against the common good. Our rights can be overridden if there is a compelling reason to do so.
However, the discussion paper does not meet the burden of proof that there is an overriding reason to violate the Charter right. There is no evidence that suggests that:
- a system of random checks is more effective than the current method whereby a police request a breath test on the basis of reasonable cause. The statistics cited in the annex of the report do not prove that an alternative to RBT cannot obtain the same result as those claimed for RBT, or that a combination of measures (such as reducing allowable alcohol blood levels, more frequent use of RIDE, etc) cannot obtain the same results as RBT.
- random breath tests will be a deterrent to drunk drivers.
Instead of RBT, a better deterrent would be to substantially increase the fines for a first offence and the penalties for subsequent offences beyond the amount proposed in the discussion paper.
To quote an old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
First the airports and now our cars. Where will this end? Will our homes be next?
If we allow police to search us without reasonable cause, they can enter our homes on a fishing expedition at any time just to check that we are not law-breakers.
The argument that “if you are a law-abiding citizen you have nothing to fear” assumes that miscarriage of justice never happens. Tell that to Maher Arar, or the many innocent people incarcerated in Canadian jails because of a mistake / incompetence / or malfeasence by police.
Our right to privacy is fundamental. Please tell the government so by emailing the Justice Department at ID-consultation-FA@justice.gc.ca and objecting to random breath testing.
You have until April 30, 2010 to do so. After that point, the consultation period ends and so will your right to privacy.