Has the self-styled “party of the Charter,” as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau still, curiously, calls the Liberals, actually even read the Charter? Have the Liberals, for that matter, paid much attention to what their own prime minister has been saying?
Canada’s impaired driving laws underwent a major overhaul last month, courtesy of the federal Liberal government. Some of the changes were necessary to recognize the changed reality of legalized cannabis. Others were simply intended to further reduce rates of impaired driving, by drug or alcohol, on our roads. This is a goal everyone shares — impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada, way ahead of anything else. It’s a stubborn problem that governments are right to try to address, particularly a government that has recently legalized a whole new category of intoxicant.
This is a meaningful expansion of police search powers, and it will absolutely be challenged — hopefully successfully — as a violation of Canadians’ fundamental protections against unreasonable searches. This is also an expansion of police authority that the Liberals were explicitly warned would result in abuses of power, most likely taking the form of racial discrimination. “There will be nothing random with this breath testing,” defence lawyer Michael Spratt told a parliamentary committee reviewing the bill before it became law. “Visible minorities are pulled over by the police more often for no reason. That’s what is going to happen here.” The Canadian Civil Liberties Association sounded a similar warning in its own filing, writing, “Experience has also unfortunately demonstrated that ‘random’ detention and search powers are too often exercised in a non-random manner that disproportionately targets African-Canadian, Indigenous, and other racial minorities.” It continued, “… the reality of racial profiling and the increased invasiveness that attends a mandatory alcohol screening means that the practice will adversely impact those disproportionately targeted by police for vehicular stops, in particular African-Canadian, Indigenous, and other racial minorities.”
The prime minister was right. So was Mr. Spratt and the CCLA. Beyond the basic offence to everyone’s rights constituted by such random and baseless searches, these expanded police powers will obviously be applied unevenly, and that is fundamentally unfair. Why was that so true for cannabis that the prime minister used it to justify why legalization was necessary, but the Liberals deem it to be of no concern whatsoever for impaired driving?
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