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Top court acquits Quebec man found drunk in parked vehicle

The Supreme Court of Canada is seen in Ottawa, Ont. Tuesday October 2, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Supreme Court of Canada has restored the acquittal of a Quebec man who was charged with operating a vehicle while impaired, after he was found passed out in his parked pickup truck as he waited for a designated-driver service.

Donald Boudreault was charged under Section 253 of the Criminal Code, which forbids an impaired person from being in "care or control" of a car, plane or boat, even if the vehicle is not in motion.

Mr. Boudreault argued that he had no intention of driving since he had arranged for a local driver escort service to drive him home.

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The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled last year that Mr. Boudreault should have been convicted because it was irrelevant whether he intended to drive or not.

The appellate court noted that he was three times over the legal limit of .08 (80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood) and there was a possibility he could have eventually set his vehicle in motion.

At the time, Mr. Boudreault was in the driver's seat of his idling Dodge Ram. He said he had turned on the engine because he was cold.

However, in a 6-1 decision released Friday morning, the country's highest court agreed that he posed no threat.

Writing for the majority, Mr. Justice Morris Fish said that to be convicted, there had to be "an intentional course of conduct" associated with the vehicle and a realistic risk, rather than a remote possibility of danger.

"Mr. Boudreault, though intoxicated, knew what he was doing and took all the necessary precautions," Judge Fish wrote.

Judge Fish said anyone found inebriated and behind the wheel should "almost invariably" be convicted.

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However, in this case, Mr. Boudreault had made an alternate plan to return home safely and posed no realistic risk.

"Use of the vehicle for a manifestly innocent purpose should not attract the stigma of a criminal conviction.," Judge Fish said.

In a dissenting opinion, Mr. Justice Thomas Cromwell focused on the preventive aim of Section 253.

Judge Cromwell noted that, after police showed up and woke him up, a still drunk Mr. Boudreault asked to be left alone so he could drive home.

"It is difficult to imagine a case falling more squarely within the preventive purpose of the care and control provision," Judge Crownwell wrote.

The case began in February 2009 in the small town of Saguenay, northeast of Quebec City, when Mr. Boudreault spent the night drinking, first in a bar, then at the home of an acquaintance, Danye Dubois.

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By 10 a.m., when Mr. Boudreault decided to leave, she called Taxic, a service that sends two drivers, one to transport the drunk motorist home and the other one to drive his vehicle.

When the Taxic drivers didn't show up after 25 minutes, they called a second time, then Ms. Dubois asked Mr. Boudreault to wait outside.

It was minus 15 and windy so he went into his pickup truck, turned on the engine and the heater, then fell asleep. He was still unconscious when a Taxic driver found him and called police.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More


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