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RCMP Cnst. Faz Majid removes an open bottle of beer from a motorist's car during a roadside check in Surrey, B.C., on September 24, 2010. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
RCMP Cnst. Faz Majid removes an open bottle of beer from a motorist's car during a roadside check in Surrey, B.C., on September 24, 2010. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Letter from B.C.

B.C.'s new drunk driving law stuck in limbo Add to ...

The latest headache for British Columbia's solicitor general, Shirley Bond, was handed down by the courts on Nov. 30. This week, the lengthy B.C. Supreme Court judgment on the province's drunk driving law remains on her desk as she seeks to calculate the fallout.

The B.C. government instituted what it billed as the toughest drunk driving laws in the country back in September 2010. A series of legal challenges inevitably followed, bankrolled by the hospitality industry.

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Justice Jon Sigurdson found a portion of the province's new regime of immediate roadside prohibitions unconstitutional.

For police, we are just starting the busiest season for cracking down on impaired driving. But the new tools they had for dealing swiftly with drivers who fail a roadside sobriety test have been taken away, at least until Ms. Bond can amend the 2010 law. It means police will have less time to catch drunk drivers as they spend more time processing those suspects who are nabbed.

The law stands for drivers who blow in the warning level – they can receive three-day, immediate roadside suspensions. But drivers who fail the screening test will face penalties under the old law – ranging from a 24-hour roadside suspension to Criminal Code charges.

But what about the 15,000 drivers who faced sanctions under the 2010 law for failing a roadside screening test? Many of them may be trying to find a way to recoup the thousands of dollars they’ve paid in penalties.

Ms. Bond initially said she believes the court ruling would hold no retroactive repercussions. But that raw optimism was quickly deflated.

“Our phones are ringing off the hook,” said Michael Mulligan, a Victoria lawyer who specializes in drunk driving cases. His firm has already filed half a dozen petitions to the courts, seeking to overturn penalties meted out under the law.

Ms. Bond – after a busy fall as both solicitor general and attorney general – has been uncharacteristically silent in recent days. In a written statement last week, the minister said she is still studying the decision. The government will go back to the court and propose changes to address the judge’s concerns about the inadequate appeal process.

But for those caught in the snare of the 2010 penalties, Ms. Bond has yet to offer an answer.

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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