Changes to Alberta’s impaired driving laws will come into force on April 9.
Changes to Alberta’s impaired driving laws that will later include drug limits once cannabis is legalized will take effect April 9, the province announced Tuesday.
The updates to the Traffic Safety Act — including a change that responds to a ruling that indefinite roadside licence suspensions are a Charter of Rights violation — were first proposed in November.
With the new rules, any driver impaired by alcohol or drugs will instead lose their licence for 90 days. After the suspension period, drivers can choose to participate in a one-year ignition interlock program or wait out a year-long suspension. The suspensions will also be imposed on drivers who refuse roadside testing.
The limit for alcohol will remain at .08, but the provincial laws lay the “groundwork” to adopt whatever blood-drug concentration limits are set by federal law for drivers who consume cannabis once it is legalized, a news release from the province stated Tuesday.
But defence lawyers in the province have concerns about the changes, including the scientific validity of the standards being applied to cannabis use, Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association vice-president Nate Whitling said Tuesday.
In an email, Whitling said the association is “disappointed” the new law doesn’t provide a more rigorous right to appeal licence suspensions, and is concerned by the lack of clarity about “reasonable grounds” to impose a suspension.
“The (association) believes that the new law does not comply with the (Alberta) Court of Appeal’s decision since suspensions under the old law will continue to pressure people into pleading guilty whether they’re guilty or not,” he wrote.
Whitling was counsel in the case that ultimately resulted in the Court of Appeal striking down the provincial law that allowed officers to issue roadside licence suspensions to suspected impaired drivers that remain in place while the accused awaits trial.
Drivers charged under the Traffic Safety Act can still be subject to prosecution and penalties under the Criminal Code.
Under new federal law, drivers would face a maximum $1,000 fine if their blood tested positive for two to five nanograms per millilitre of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). For drivers with more than five ng/ml of THC detected on a first offence, a minimum $1,000 fine would be imposed, with harsher penalties such as jail time for subsequent offences. The rules also impose penalties for combined alcohol-cannabis use.
THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.