Evidence of meeting #77 for Justice and Human Rights in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was alcohol.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Marthe Dalpé-Scott  Co-Chair, Drugs and Driving Committee, Canadian Society of Forensic Science
  • Evan Graham  National Coordinator, Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

—and he blows twice the limit. The officer feels the individual might have drugs in his system; can he carry it that next step?

9:25 a.m.

Cpl Evan Graham

He could, but there's really no point in doing so. If we have the evidence for a charge under paragraph 253(b), being over 80 milligrams percent, then there's no need to go through the drug evaluation.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

So that same scenario, but a bag of weed is found in the car, and he gives the appearance of alcohol in his system, possibly in combination with the marijuana. Is it the same scenario?

9:25 a.m.

Cpl Evan Graham

Yes, as long as the person's blood alcohol concentration is over the legal limit, we would go with the alcohol impaired driving charge.

The only way we wouldn't is if the blood alcohol level is either right at the 0.08 or 80 milligrams percent, and that's just because the courts have a hard time accepting 80 as the actual number for charging, or if the end issue was so grossly inconsistent with the blood alcohol concentration.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

So it's going to be a judgment call on the part of the officer to decide whether or not he wants to carry it further—or who, the DRE?

9:25 a.m.

Cpl Evan Graham

Again, if it's over 0.08 they generally go straight to it. If it's close or borderline, then it would be either the officer—if he's had some training in drug impairment—or the DRE who would make that call, yes.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

Monsieur Petit.

June 14th, 2007 / 9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Thank you.

Thank you for coming, Mr. Graham. I was able to consult a document that was sent to us and is entitled, “The Development of an Evaluation Framework for the Drug Recognition Expert Program”. That was presented to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and it was Douglas Beirness, who came and testified before us a few days ago, who presented it.

First, I'm very pleased because this document describes the steps for us. I am a lawyer, I previously worked on cases of this type, and I find this excellent. At least I understand. Even though I am on the government side, I was afraid that, at the roadside, because that's where most defences are developed... You remember that, in the case of the breathalyzer test, when the police officer had a suspicion, he arrested the individual. You know as well as I do that, in the case of certain tests, which are now called standardized sobriety tests, the Supreme Court held that, if the person arrested was not warned, the tests could not be used to incriminate him because it did not want him to incriminate himself. You know the rule that you cannot incriminate yourself.

The question I ask myself concerns the sobriety test. When you are at the roadside, there is a suspicion. A police officer asks the person to stop. The officer has to gather evidence gradually in order to continue the effort to take him to the police station. He doesn't know at that point whether it's alcohol or drugs. All he knows is that there is an indicator or a suspicion of impaired faculties. Naturally, it's easier in the case of alcohol, because the police officer has in his car a device called a Dragger into which he has the person breathe. If the device indicates fail, he takes the individual to the police station for more tests. Naturally, we know that, if that's what the police officer does, there won't be any problem because we know the sequence in the types of alcohol levels.

Mr. Ménard's question is very relevant. In the case of drugs, is the sobriety test administered at the roadside, like those I've previously known? The citizen is asked to get out of his car, the police officer stands behind him to see if he is staggering or if he smells alcohol directly, but the car's interior may smell of alcohol. After that, there are certain tests—Mr. Ménard said that—such as putting one's finger on one's nose, etc. Is that in fact what you prefer so that your suspicions gradually give you the opportunity to move toward the 12 steps? That's at the roadside. You must understand that, in Quebec, like everywhere else in Canada, it's not easy to conduct the roadside walking test at -30 degrees Celsius in the winter. You're beside Highway 20, you're having trouble, the roads are not completely straight. A good lawyer could overturn your case right away. The point is to clearly understand whether that's what you mean when you talk about standardized tests. Are you talking about those that I am familiar with—perhaps there are others—that you conduct for alcohol when you don't have a Dragger in your car? You say: “Walk, heel to toe, etc.” Is that what you're talking about when you refer to roadside tests?

9:30 a.m.

Cpl Evan Graham

Yes, it is. The tests are done roadside to elevate suspicion to reasonable and probable grounds.

As far as the Supreme Court ruling on whether or not it's incriminatory is concerned, if we're using it just to elevate the suspicion to grounds for a breath demand, we're not required to provide the charter warning. If we're trying to equate what we're seeing with a level of impairment, then the person has to be given the right to counsel, because it become incriminatory or self-incriminatory.

Weather-wise, it's certainly an issue in Canada, because of our climate. But of the studies done in the United States, one was done in Colorado year round. So they ran into exactly the same problems we'd run into here with snow, uneven road surfaces and inclement weather. And despite the poor weather conditions on some nights, the tests were still validated; they still showed that they worked.

And again, we're talking about elevating suspicion to reasonable and probable grounds for a breath demand. If the person comes back and either blows under the legal limit or there's no alcohol involved at all, then the person would be released.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Thank you.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

Thank you.

Madam Jennings.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Thank you very much for your presentation. I think it's quite clear.

I want to go back to something. You've explained the road sobriety test; you've explained the DRE. What I would like to know is, clearly, if an officer sees a car in motion, and it's weaving or it's gone through a stoplight or it hasn't made a complete stop when turning a corner, then that could raise suspicions that possibly the driver is impaired. However, there are many occasions where the driver is actually stopped for a completely different reason—for example, the licence plate has not been renewed, a tail light is broken—what most people would consider to be a minor infraction.

At that point, the police officer has no reason to believe that the individual who's behind the wheel is impaired; however, things could happen while the officer is conducting his normal police routine, which is getting the licence, the driver's permit, the car registration, in order to fill out the ticket, and at some point he may become suspicious that the driver is impaired.

Unless we're talking about the individual being stopped because of the actual way in which the car is being driven or because a call has come in saying, “I saw a car weaving”, or whatever, if the car has been stopped for nothing to do with impairment, on what basis would a police officer be legally permitted to ask the driver to step out of the car and to submit that driver to the road sobriety test, first, under alcohol, and second, under the case of suspicion of drug impairment or some form of impairment?

9:35 a.m.

Cpl Evan Graham

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that although arbitrary stops are a violation, the police have the authority to stop a vehicle to check vehicle fitness and driver fitness at any time. That really falls under the scenario you're giving, that we've stopped a person because of a licence plate you can't read, or it's just a simple road check where we're running vehicles through, but by the time the person gets to you, they may have been twelfth to thirteenth in line, and we'd have no driving evidence.

If we have some kind of suspicion that the person may have consumed alcohol—and that actually goes back to another Supreme Court ruling. During the road check the common stuff we do is pull somebody over, and when they come up to you, ask them, “Have you been consuming alcohol tonight?” If they admit to consuming alcohol, we ask them a few more questions, and if during that conversation we feel that a person should be checked to see if they're fit to drive, we have that authority to do so.

Again, it's on a voluntary basis currently.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Yes, but my question is not when you're doing a systematic roadside check operation. We see that a lot, like before the Christmas holidays. I'm talking about when the SQ or the QPP are patrolling highway 40—that's normal—and they see a car with a broken tail light. Correctly and legally, they intercept the car and ask for the driver's permit and registration for the car in order to issue a citation, a warning, whatever, and at some point they decide to conduct a roadside sobriety test.

What would give rise to sufficient suspicion on the part of the officer to legally permit him to do that?

9:35 a.m.

Cpl Evan Graham

It could be something as simple as the odour of alcohol on the person's breath or coming from the vehicle, empty containers.