Pubdate: Wed, 22 Nov 2006
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2006, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Alex Dobrota
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Marijuana and Driving)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


OTTAWA -- A bill to curb drugged driving and to stiffen penalties for
alcohol-impaired motorists is drawing fire from at least one legal
expert and one opposition critic, who say the legislation is

The comments came after Justice Minister Vic Toews tabled legislation
that gives police the power to request blood or urine samples from
suspected impaired drivers.

The bill, heralded two weeks ago by Prime Minister Stephen Harper,
also punishes those drivers who refuse to provide blood or urine
samples or who turn down a breath analysis.

Motorists who decline such tests automatically face a prison sentence
of 10 years if they are involved in an accident causing bodily harm,
and risk life in jail if involved in an accident causing death.

The chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said the new
measures are needed to close a loophole in the law. Impaired drivers
involved in fatal crashes could previously avoid tough sentences by
refusing to blow, said Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD.

But one defence lawyer said the bill violates the Charter of Rights
and Freedoms.

"The legislation is unconstitutional," said Mark Ertel, president of
the Ottawa Defence Lawyers Association. "There is no connection
between the fact that you refuse to provide bodily substances and the
accident itself. If you refuse, you have no defence."

Requesting blood or urine samples from suspects is an intrusive
procedure open to constitutional challenges, said New Democratic Party
justice critic Joe Comartin.

There is no consensus on the blood-level reading that would constitute
drug impairment, Mr. Comartin said.

And marijuana remains detectable for up to two months after
consumption, Mr. Ertel said. This raised concerns among medicinal-pot
users who fear the new bill could prevent them from driving their cars
without being arrested.

"This is casting a very broad net to catching certain people," said
Russell Barth, an activist and author who uses marijuana to alleviate
pain caused by fibromyalgia, a disease that causes pain in the
muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Mr. Toews brushed away the criticism, saying his bill models
legislation enacted in the United States 20 years ago.

The minister said police officers would require blood or urine samples
from suspects only after carrying out an array of other less intrusive
tests that clearly alert the officers to signs of drug use.

"This is a minimal intrusion that is justified under the Charter," he
said at a news conference.

The bill would also raise the fine for a first offence of simple
impaired driving to $1,000 from $600. Jail terms for the second
offence would increase from 14 to 30 days and for the third, from 90
to 120 days.

As he spoke to reporters, Mr. Toews presented a copy of the
legislation to Mike and Barb Rider. The couple's 16-year-old son David
was killed seven years ago near Perth, Ont., in a crash that occurred
after the driver had smoked marijuana.

"To a large extent, the one common feature between people who have
lost children is not wanting other parents to have to go through the
same ordeal," Mr. Rider said. "And that's our motivation."

Liberal justice critic Sue Barnes said her party would first study the
Conservatives' proposal before deciding whether to support it.
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