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Port Moody police say faulty breathalyzer readings led to driving suspensions

An RCMP Constable holds a breathalyzer test in Surrey, B.C., in this 2010 photo. Port Moody police say a review of their breathalyzers has revealed that 14 roadside driving suspensions issued in 2011 were based on faulty readings.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Port Moody police say a review of their breathalyzers has revealed that 14 roadside driving suspensions issued in 2011 were based on faulty readings – findings that continue to cast doubt on some of the province's drunk driving regulations.

The investigation, conducted by a forensic scientist, determined that a Port Moody police officer had made errors while calibrating roadside-approved screening devices used by the department, substantiating an earlier report by the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner.

"As a department, we're sorry for any inconveniences this has caused drivers," said Constable Luke van Winkel, a department spokesman. "We've learned a lot from this mistake and updated our policies and procedures to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future."

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Constable van Winkel says the officer in charge of calibrating the devices was verbally reprimanded and removed from calibrating duties.

The department issued a total of 174 immediate roadside suspensions in 2011.

Paul Doroshenko, a Vancouver defence lawyer who represents clients facing fines and roadside suspension under drunk driving regulations, says the admission by the department comes far too late and illustrates some of the major problems with immediate roadside testing.

"I mean it's different types of problems everywhere – different types of mistakes. If you go back through the news articles you find the one in Abbotsford where the police officer blew a fail on the roadside trying to demonstrate to someone," Mr. Doroshenko said. "It's an electrical mechanical device. They are going to have problems – if they drop, or fall off the back of police cars."

Mr. Doroshenko, who has filed dozens of freedom of information requests relating to B.C.'s immediate roadside prohibition program over the last several years, says he thinks cases of human error with calibration are happening all across the province.

"And you're punishing people before they have a trial, before you can have inquiry into the evidence," he said. "There's no solution to this scheme of punishing people for 90 days off the top."

Mr. Doroshenko, whose clients also include those who have been issued roadside suspensions by the Port Moody police, said he has not been informed whether any of the 14 faulty readings came from people he represents.

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The Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles was not available to comment Thursday. In a released statement, it said the office "has reviewed each file and will be contacting the 14 affected drivers cancelling their Immediate Roadside Prohibitions and penalties."

The Port Moody police were first alerted to a potential calibrating issue in October, 2011. The department contacted the OPCC, which determined in its own September, 2012, investigation that problems existed.

Thursday's findings come from an independent review that was set up by the Port Moody police in an effort to determine exactly how many roadside suspensions issued in 2011 were the result of faulty readings.

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About the Author
News reporter

Daniel Bitonti is a Vancouver-based reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before joining the bureau, Daniel spent six months on the copy desk in the Globe’s Toronto newsroom after completing a journalism degree at Carleton University. More

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