More drunks on the road, and not stepped-up enforcement, are to blame for a "troubling" surge in impaired-driving charges in the province, says the B.C. Solicitor-General.
Mike de Jong, commenting Tuesday on an 18-per-cent increase in impaired-driving charges between 2008 and 2009, dismissed the suggestion that police are simply catching more impaired drivers.
"The information I have been given, the data I have seen in advance of this study, suggest it's not stepped-up enforcement," Mr. de Jong told reporters. "More people are mixing alcohol with driving and that's got to stop."
Nationally, impaired-driving charges rose by 3 per cent. Prince Edward Island saw the largest increase - 39 per cent. Only New Brunswick reported a substantial decrease, declining 11 per cent. Nova Scotia's 18-per-cent increase was in line with B.C.'s.
The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics noted that the national increase was part of a trend: Following a general decline over 25 years, impaired-driving offences increased for the third straight year in 2009.
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Mr. de Jong, who is also the provincial Attorney-General, said he was gratified to see the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics report some declines in other categories of crime, including homicide, serious assault, robbery, break and enter and motor-vehicle theft.
But that was balanced out by the increase in impaired driving, he said.
"Good news, bad news in these stats," he said. "The numbers around impaired driving are alarming and form part of the rationale for steps we have announced and introduced to move ahead with the toughest sanctions in the country on impaired driving."
In April, Mr. de Jong announced a bid, through a new law taking effect in the fall, to reduce the number of impaired-driving fatalities by a third in the next three years. The new law gives police the authority to impose tougher roadside penalties for drivers who refuse a breath sample or are found with a blood-alcohol level over the legal 0.08 per cent limit.
Drivers will also face an immediate 90-day driving ban and a $500 fine. Their vehicles can be impounded for 30 days. They may face criminal charges as well.
There is also a new "warning" category for drivers with blood-alcohol levels between 0.05 and 0.08 per cent, with penalties that include an immediate three-day driving ban and $200 fine for a first-time offence.
Andrew Murie, Toronto-based chief executive officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said he expected B.C.'s new campaign - which MADD has praised - would have a future impact on the numbers.
"I bet you when you look at the 2010 numbers, you're going to see a drop from that 18 per cent in B.C.," he said. "You're going to see police enforcement out there at high levels."