Saskatchewan Taking Zero Tolerance Stance Against Drug-Impaired Drivers
Preparing for Impacts of Federal Bill C-46
New federal legislation on drug-impaired driving is expected to take effect in late December or early January, and the Government of Saskatchewan wants drivers in this province to know how it impacts them. The Miscellaneous Vehicle and Driving Statutes (Cannabis Legislation) Amendment Act, 2017 was introduced in the Saskatchewan Legislature today to prepare for those federal changes.
“It’s important for people to remember that in Saskatchewan it is currently and will continue to be illegal to drive while impaired – whether by drugs or alcohol,” Minister Responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave said. “That is not changing, even when personal cannabis use becomes legal in July. New federal legislation gives police new tools to detect drug-impaired drivers. Anyone caught will face the same tough consequences as drivers impaired by alcohol.”
Marijuana impairs a driver’s judgment, reaction time, motor co-ordination and ability to make decisions. Mixing drugs with alcohol increases impairment.
Saskatchewan will have zero tolerance for all drivers for drug-impaired driving. Implementing a zero tolerance approach means that drivers should not get behind the wheel with any level of impairing drugs in their system that is detectable by a federally-approved screening device. The province is updating legislation and regulations so that tough administrative consequences that impaired drivers in Saskatchewan currently face will also apply to anyone charged under the new federal laws.
The zero tolerance stance is part of Saskatchewan’s action plan for cannabis legalization in Canada next year. In the Government of Saskatchewan's recently released Cannabis Survey (www.saskatchewan.ca/government/news-and-media/2017/november/23/cannabis-survey-results), 65.6 per cent of people agreed or strongly agreed that the same penalties for alcohol-impaired driving should apply to drug-impaired driving. A majority of respondents also agreed that there should be zero tolerance for drivers who use cannabis or other impairing drugs.
Police can currently lay an “impaired by drugs or alcohol” charge under the Criminal Code. Federal Bill C-46 adds three new drug-impaired driving offences to the Criminal Code. Once the bill receives Royal Assent, police can immediately lay those charges.
When New Criminal Code Charges Are Laid
When Saskatchewan’s new legislation is passed, a driver charged with one of the three new Criminal Code charges under Bill C-46 will also face administrative consequences under TheTraffic Safety Act:
- Immediate driver’s licence suspension until the court has disposed of the charge;
- 30-day vehicle seizure, or 60 day seizure if driver is also impaired by alcohol and has a blood alcohol concentration over .16 (vehicle owner responsible for towing and impound fees).
In addition to fines, jail time, driving suspensions and other sanctions imposed by the courts, a Criminal Codeconviction will result in the following administrative consequences from SGI:
- Minimum one-year driving suspension to a maximum of five years;
- Penalties ranging from $1,250 to $2,500 under SGI’s Safe Driver Recognition program, depending on the severity of the offence; and
- Requirement to complete prescribed education programs, as applicable, depending on the number of previous Criminal Code convictions.
Once Bill C-46 is in place, police will also have the authority to use federally-approved roadside drug screening devices for impaired driving, if they have reasonable grounds to suspect a driver is impaired by a drug. These devices will test saliva for the presence of THC (the impairing component of cannabis) as well as some other drugs. If a driver tests positive, or fails a standardized field sobriety test, police can demand a blood sample or a drug recognition evaluation. Saliva testing is not currently available in Saskatchewan, but the new provincial legislation is preparing for the eventuality that testing will be available and police in this province will lay the new charges when appropriate.
“Our government is sending a clear message, while cannabis may soon be legal, driving under the influence is illegal, dangerous to public safety, and will be dealt with harshly,” Hargrave said. “Bottom line – driving impaired by drugs or alcohol is a bad idea, with serious consequences.”
If No Criminal Code Charges Are Laid
If police determine a driver has some evidence of drugs in their system (for example, through the use of a standard field sobriety test or other means), but no Criminal Charge has been laid, experienced drivers will face administrative sanctions under The Traffic Safety Act similar to alcohol-related consequences.
For a first offence, those consequences include immediate three-day roadside licence suspensions, three-day vehicle seizures and mandatory educational programs.
Consequences increase with repeat offences
Saskatchewan already has zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol for new drivers in the Graduated Driver Licensing program, and for those 21 and under. Consequences for new drivers are already harsher than those for experienced drivers; the consequences remain the same when cannabis becomes legal.