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Port Moody to check drink-screening devices

Jesper Wittorff/iStockphoto/Jesper Wittorff/iStockphoto

The Port Moody Police Department has asked that an outside agency review the way it calibrates screening devices used in roadside drinking tests after a defence lawyer suggested that flaws in the process could have resulted in inaccurate results – and unwarranted penalties for drunk driving.

"The allegations made are serious and we are treating them accordingly," Port Moody spokesman Constable Bill Kim said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement.

"We have asked that the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner order an investigation into these circumstances and have requested and that an outside agency conduct this investigation.

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"We are also conducting our own assessment with respect to our training, procedures and policies relative to the use of approved screening devices."

The review follows questions raised by Vancouver defence lawyer Paul Doroshenko, whose clients include people who have faced fines or roadside suspensions under drunk driving regulations introduced last year. The regulations provide for immediate roadside suspensions and lowered the threshold for legal blood alcohol limits.

Those regulations – which the province credits for cutting booze-related motor fatalities nearly in half since they came into effect – have been called heavy-handed and potentially unconstitutional.

There have also been questions about the reliability of the equipment used to gather evidence on which to base roadside suspensions. Last year, thousands of screening devices were recalled and adjusted after authorities learned of a small "margin of error" that might have caused false readings.

A class action lawsuit has been filed in relation to tests administered last year but has yet to be certified.

Mr. Doroshenko has filed dozens of freedom of information requests relating to the program. In response, he's received correspondence that includes a letter from the Port Moody police department that he says points to another problem, a discrepancy between the way the department calibrates its equipment and the requirements set out by the Canadian Society of Forensic Science.

"The police have done it incorrectly," he says. "Each time it has been done incorrectly."

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Mr. Doroshenko was not able to say how many people's tests would have been affected, or by how much, by a potential calibration error. But he suggested the issue raises broader concerns about the way the program works and how it is regulated.

Solicitor-General Shirley Bond declined interview requests about Mr. Doroshenko's concerns.

But in an e-mailed statement, her ministry said maintenance of approved screening devices "is a matter of operational procedure" and that it is up to local police departments to ensure that such devices are calibrated regularly and operate with accuracy.

When the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police learned of variations in the margins of error on some approved screening devices last year, it directed all police departments to have them adjusted, she added.

The same group has been made aware of the possibility of flaws in the way the screening devices are maintained and calibrated.

"I am confident that police understand the need to ensure the devices work properly as an essential component to combating drinking and driving and in turn, preventing senseless deaths and injuries," the ministry statement quotes Ms. Bond as saying.

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The president of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, Chief Constable Brad Parker of the Port Moody Police Department, says it would be inappropriate to comment at this time, his assistant said Thursday in an e-mail.

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