Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jul 2008
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Glenn Kauth


Easier For Police To Lay Criminal Charges

Last year, Edmonton police stopped about 200 drivers found to be high 
on drugs, but barely a handful of them ended up with criminal charges.

Instead, police gave them 24-hour suspensions of their driver's 
licences, a power they have under provincial law.

But now, Const. Ian Brooks hopes recent changes to federal 
legislation will make it easier to also charge drivers criminally.

Brooks is one of seven officers certified to do drug-recognition 
tests for Edmonton police.

Cops have always had the ability to lay impaired-driving charges 
against people who get high behind the wheel, but doing so has been 
challenging without the power to force suspects to provide blood, 
urine or saliva samples.

"It's not that you can't do it. It's just that it's difficult," Brooks said.

But now, drivers who refuse to comply with the tests will face a 
minimum fine of $1,000, similar to what people pay for refusing a breathalyzer.

The change comes after legislation passed by the federal government 
to crack down on drug-impaired drivers took effect last week.

The law isn't without its critics, however. Lawyers, for example, 
have pointed out that while a test might detect marijuana in 
someone's blood, the driver may have actually smoked it months before.

But Brooks says that's why he and other police drug-recognition 
experts follow a 12-step process before asking for a test to look for 
signs of impairment.

The procedure involves standard checks on whether someone can walk in 
a straight line or whether their pupils are contracted.

It's the combination of the drug-recognition expert's observations as 
well as the biological tests that provide enough evidence for a 
criminal charge, said Brooks.

Still, Brian Hurley, a defence lawyer in Edmonton, called the federal 
changes "window dressing" by a government eager to show it's getting 
tough on crime.

"This is yet another example of (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper 
monkeying around with the Criminal Code. It has always been an 
offence .. to drive while impaired by drugs," he said, noting police 
previously had to get a warrant from a judge in order to force 
someone to submit to a test.

Brooks, however, hopes the law will allow police to crack down on 
drivers like the man high on marijuana that they found going 110 kmh 
in a 50 zone.

"Right now, instead of maybe getting a provincial 24-hour suspension, 
you'll actually be facing the same thing as people who abuse alcohol," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart