Welcome to Alberta, where you are presumed guilty until found innocent. Where police, and prosecutors can decide your sentence via the charge they will administer. Yup, starting July 1, 2012 you will be found guilty during a road side breathalyser test, by an Alberta law enforcement agent, if you blow over .05. criminal charges placed when you blow .08 and above. Meaning, you will be guilty, until proven innocent. No longer will the onus be on the prosecutor to prove you are guilty. The onus will be on you to prove you are innocent (good luck with that).
Personally, I don’t drink and drive period. Even if I have one, this is because I know my body can’t handle it and although my blood alcohol level might only be .02 I am still in no condition to drive. So the law makes no difference to me personally. I am also all for getting drunk drivers off our streets. However, in this country the last time I checked people are innocent until proven guilty, at least in a court of law- in the court of media this is a different story. However, under this new law brought forth in Alberta you are guilty until proven innocent. That is, the police, and RCMP, can immediately take away your driver’s license, and impound your vehicle. Not just for a set amount of time but until the charges have been cleared up! In other words, the police officer is judge, and jury. This means that you will be without a car until your case is cleared in court. Anyone who knows anything about our justice system should have alarm bells going off here. What happens if a person needs their vehicle for work? Without it they loose their job based on an alleged DUI- that could take the courts over a year to prove. In fact, 12-18 months is the average. Alternatively what if the person is found innocent in a court of law after all. We have now taken their vehicle away, cost them their job (and probably other jobs in the same field), based on guilty until proven innocent. This doesn’t sit right with me.
The government say that they are not targeting those who have the occasional drink with dinner. But given the stiffer penalties for a blood alcohol level of .05-.07 (which btw is not illegal) social drinkers could be targeted. And given that breathalyser have continuously been under scrutiny in regards to reliability, I would be concerned about having a glass of wine and getting behind the wheel. Breathalysers are not a perfect science, they are still technology. Errors with the technology could occur under any of the following circumstances:
- The skill and experience of the tester (in other words new police officers that aren’t familiar with the technology)
- Quality of the equipment used (is it old? Properly kept?)
- Were you exposed to paint fumes, or gasoline? This could cause false blood readings (at least according to the US supreme court)
- The temperature the equipment is kept at (think Calgary, mid December, equipment thrown into the back of police vehicles for 12 hour shifts)
- Calibration of machine
- Recent consumption of alcohol. False readings have been known to occur if someone has drank alcohol within a 15 minute period and then been breathalysed.
In other words erros may be magnified if police do not follow proper procedures, such as calibrating the machine correctly, testing, and environmental factors.
Some have argued that since BC brought in similar laws to this one, a year ago, that drunk driving has decreased 40% (in other words the deterrent is working). Unfortunately, this stat doesn’t take into account that drunk driving has steadily been decreasing in the last decade due to alternative attitudes to drinking. It also doesn’t take into account that this is one of those things you can measure in a year. To see if this law has a real effect they must do a longitudinal study on the data.
Seems to me that other things could be done to catch more drunk drivers. For example, more check stops. I know people that haven’t been through check stops in Calgary in 10+ years. These types of programs are underfunded. Personally, I have been through check stops and the police only, in my experience, mostly just pull over those who appear to be under 30. Because you know, those over 30 never drink and drive. Not to mention check stops are seasonal. They are mainly present between mid Nov-Mid January, and again July-Aug. The rest of the year you never see them, and you definitely don’t hear about them. Maybe let’s fund these programs instead of spending more money on more useless legislation. But alas, useless legislation that violates rights seems to be the Canadian way lately.
Here are some details on the law:
Starting July 1, 2012
Starting September 1, 2012
Starting July 1, 2012
**It is important to know you are entitled to a second test on another device at the scene. And you can also request to be taken to the station to receive a more accurate test**
This law comes into effect July 1, 2012.
Other links to check out
Update: April 26 3:11 pm: PM Harper has told CBC new that he will not be supporting this motion brought forth to reopen the debate on when life begins. He says that he can’t stop the motion from being tabled, but that he will not be voting in favour of it. According to CBC this will go up for vote either in June, or September. Let your MP know that it is unacceptable for them to be making decisions about your reproductive system! Thursday April 26 9:00 am: The Liberal party of Canada has started a petition to tell the Harper government to keep their hands off our reproductive rights. __________ According to CBC a motion has been put forth by a conservative MP, Stephen Woodworth, wanting to reopen the debate on when life begins. Despite Harper saying numerous times that his government would not reopen the debate. The government is allowing this one hour of debate in the house of commons tomorrow then it will head to the bottom of the pile. Once they come back around it will be allowed another hour of debate. This is a slippery slope to say the least. Right now the US is in a contraceptive debate of its own. The personhood movement has been strong in the US prompting huge political figures to back motions that would not only make abortions illegal, but also make some birth control illegal. Now personhood has a Canadian counterpart found here . This is some scary stuff. Every time I turn around, some old white guy is trying to legislate my body. Some MPs are saying they want to consult their constituents before doing anything. Others are calling for all parties to allow for free “conscience” votes. So I urge everyone to contact your MPs and stand up for a woman’s reproductive rights. MP Jason Kenney was among those that told CBC he would be consulting his constituents today. Well Mr. Kenney I am one of those, and I urge you to do what your government said it would and not reopen this. My reproductive system is my own. A woman’s body is her own. And frankly I believe that people need to make their own moral choices, and the government needs to stay out of it. If this government is true to its word it will shut this down. “we will not be reopening this debate”- PM Harper This is one debate I’m going to be watching closely. I just can’t help but wonder why it is that old white men keep trying to get all up in my reproductive system.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
- John McCrae, May 1915
So I keep sitting down to write this blog post, and every single time I just delete it, and sigh to myself as I realize that it would make no difference anyway. The bottom line is that the conservatives are going to do what the conservatives want to do, and they really don’t care what kind of consequences their actions could have, or what the Canadian people think of what they are doing.
But then I saw this article on the CBC website a few days ago (and have seen that since 3 other provinces have spoken out) and I thought maybe, just maybe there is a point to speaking out. So for those of you who have been living under a rock let me give you a run down of this new omnibus crime bill tabled by the Harper government (also know as the Safer Streets and Communities Act). There are roughly 9 key changes this bill would bring:
- The Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
- The Increasing Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act
- Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders Act
- The Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act
- The Increasing Offender Accountability Act
- The Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
- The International Transfer of Canadian Offenders Back to Canada Act
- The Supporting Victims of Terrorism Act
- Protecting Vulnerable Foreign Nationals against Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation Act
To know that this bill is scary all we need to do is look to our neighbours to the south of us. States are coming close to bankruptcy, California has introduced a policy to release a tone of their non violent offenders. People are currently sitting in jail in Califorina, who has the toughest 3 strikes legislation to date, whose third strike was stealing a doughnut. Others, are sitting in prison for life with no history of violent crime. But they broke the law three times, and can no longer be trusted in society. Not surprisingly so, most of these people are non-white, or of lower socio economic status, but that’s a whole other post.
The federal government says that this bill will cost Canadian tax payers 78.6 Million dollars over the next 5 years. This is of course just their federal costs and doesn’t include the costs to the provinces or the 2 billion it will cost to build and operate new federal prisons to handle the increase in the population. It is also only an estimate and depends on how many people end up in jail due to the new laws. In other words its a shot in the dark, and criminologists argue a low estimate.
In Canada we do not have the 3 strikes law as in the USA but this type of crime bill that the conservative government is introducing is going to drastically increase our prison population, with the same results. Just by eliminating the 2 for 1 credit we will increase the population by 4000 inmate you add mandatory minimum sentencing into this mixture and you have a much larger prison population that needs to be housed and taken care of. Several provinces have come out against this bill and have demanded that the government help pay for it, or rethink the bill (Quebec, Ontario, Newfoundland, and Labrador) while others have expressed concern about money (BC and MB).
BC is particularly worried about this as they already face overcrowding in their jails and have had to let people go free due to a backlog in the courts. This could be a reality across Canada. Currently the justice system is already crunched. There aren’t any crown prosecutors being hired, and support staff has also been cut, and budget freezes is what most departments are facing. Currently our justice system handles 90% of cases either by dropping charges, or through plea negotiations. Only about 10% of cases actually go to trial. Well with people facing mandatory minimum sentences do you think that they will take a plea negotiation? Probably not. You are going to see an increase in people invoking their right to trial and yet the justice system doesn’t have the infrastructure right now to handle it. What will happen when the demand goes even higher?
When it comes right down to it these laws are bad for policing, and ultimately bad for our criminal justice system. You might now be sitting there wondering how it could possibly be bad for policing. It’s bad for a number of reasons. The main is man power. Police will be expected to enforce such new laws but budgets will not be increased to actually cope with such needs (similar to why you won’t see cops jumping out at you to catch you texting at a Red light) they won’t have the tools they need to actually do their jobs, and we’ll be spreading them even thinner then they already are.
Another thing that is rather odd in this bill is the proposed changed for youth crime. For starters they propose that youth 14 years or older should have stiffer penalties for their crimes. But the laws that already exist around this issue are enough as they already allow for crown prosecutors to apply to move these violent youth to adult court, and then if the judge finds it appropriate they move them to adult court and can face up to life in prison for their crimes. The other thing that the Harper government wants to do is allow for the publication of youth names for violent offenses. But, the current laws already allow for this. Any youth who is convicted of an adult sentence can have their name published, an youth 14-17 who is convicted of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault, is a repeat violent offender, or if the youth is at large and a judge feels they are a danger to themselves or others. So if these laws are already in place what is the big deal? The big deal is that it makes the government look incompetent. These laws already exist why are they making new ones? We have sufficient laws already in place to deal with these crimes the government is so worried about.
We are seeing all these problems in the USA right now. Backlogs, people being released, court systems being tied up, states on the verge of bankruptsy. California has started to release prisoners because they can not house them all, and people who are being sentenced to prison are having their sentences cut. For example, Lindsey Lohen was sentenced to serve 60 days but only served 5 hours and was released due to space. This doesn’t deter her, nor does it allow for rehabilitation programs to work for her. The message that was sent to Lindsey last weekend was, we know you didn’t do your community service and that was wrong, but we can’t actually put you in jail either because we have no room. So therefore in your case there are just no consequences do whatever you want. There is also already talk today about Dr. Murray (who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the Michael Jackson murder trial). He may not serve as much time as he will be sentenced to. Why? Again, because there is no room in California jails. All these issues California has because of three strikes laws, and mandatory minimum sentences is just foreshadowing the types of problems Canada could face.
I am not saying the entire bill is bad. There are some good points. For example the increased sentences for child molesters. But it seems like the government is using that part of the bill to cover up their political agenda (the war on drugs). It just doesn’t make sense to me. If this bill is supposed to be about making the streets safer, and helping victims get justice why is it that someone who is caught with pot plants face a harsher penalty then the child rapist. I just don’t understand.
The fact is that crime is at it’s lowest level since 1966. Crime in
Canada is not on the rise. This bill is not going to make our streets safer, it isn’t that great for victims, and it’s going to cost us all a lot of money. Or as the Huffington Post put it “The last time Canada’s crime rates were as low as Statistics Canada says they are now, The Sting and American Graffiti played at the movies; Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon ruled the airwaves, and M*A*S*H was tops on TV”