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Law change may lead to breath test refusal punishment

Sweeping changes to Canadian law may be just around the corner, and some experts believe these changes will give unprecedented powers to police officers. Here in Alberta and across the nation, new laws are being introduced that would allow police to request mandatory breath tests roadside, and even to approach a suspect at their home hours later. As part of these changes, breath test refusal would now carry a heavy criminal consequence. 

Legal experts are still debating the value and validity of the proposed laws, which would also give police the power to demand a saliva sample during a roadside stop to determine whether the suspect is under the influence of drugs. While the saliva test would require police to have reasonable suspicion of impairment, no such requirement would be put on officers demanding a breath test. Some experts believe such an act could be challenged in court as a constitutional violation. 

Many experts are of the mind that introducing these laws could shift the burden of proof from law enforcement to the accused themselves. Given Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees safety from unreasonable seizure or search, it is suspected that many people charged using evidence obtained in this way will fight against the charges in court based on this premise. Ultimately, these laws could undermine the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. 

Few Alberta residents would contest that drinking and driving should be considered a crime. But Canada is a nation built on the presumption of innocence and guarantees protecting the rights of accused individuals under the law. Individuals who find themselves at the mercy of upgraded drunk driving laws pertaining to breath test refusal may benefit from the support of an experienced criminal defense attorney in fighting charges that could very well run contrary to the rights of the defendant. 

Source: CBC News, "Changes to Canada's drunk driving laws will give police sweeping powers, warn legal experts", Bryan Labby, May 2, 2017

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