The Senate has a habit of providing fodder for its detractors, but every so often it reminds us all of its importance.
The body’s legal and constitutional affairs committee recently approved amendments designed to water down a proposed law that would allow police to intercept drivers and make them undergo screening for alcohol, even if there are no obvious grounds to believe they are impaired.
Drunk driving requires a robust response, but Bill C-46 places an unreasonable limit on Canadians’ freedoms.
One can’t help but think the proposed law, which effectively does away with the requirement of probable cause, is intended to insulate a government that is legalizing marijuana from the perception it is soft on crime in general, and on impaired driving in particular.
Advocacy groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have long agitated for greater police leeway; not everyone who is drunk, or stoned, drives erratically enough to clear the reasonable-grounds bar, they argue. Apparently the federal government agrees.
The problem with that reasoning is that it reduces random police checks to the level of minor inconveniences – in a free society, they are no such thing – and elides the fact they tend to disproportionately target people of colour.
This is according to statistics compiled by, among others, the Ottawa Police Service. As a consequence, the senators also want police departments to provide a detailed accounting of everyone they pull over under the proposed law.
Cops need adequate tools to address impaired driving, but that should not include the unfettered discretion to stop anyone they like.
The Canadian Civil Liberties’ Association says the expanded powers are unconstitutional; other experts argue the opposite. In either case, the forecast calls for years of legal bills and court battles, if the government rejects the Senate’s amendments as it has said it intends to.
Too much activism on the part of our unelected Senate is a bad thing, but in this case its legal committee is providing sound second thought. The government would be better served by listening to it.