OTTAWA — It would be easier for police to make drivers blow into a breathalyzer to detect alcohol as well as test people for drugs under the government's new legal-marijuana legislation.
The Liberals are using the occasion of legalizing pot to remake criminal provisions on drunk driving in response to pressure from parliamentarians, the provinces and public, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale acknowledged in an interview.
"One of the things you need to weigh in terms of the appropriateness of a provision like this is the absolute carnage that's caused on our highways and the very severe loss of life, and injury, by impaired driving of all kinds," Goodale said Thursday.
Proposed mandatory alcohol screening measures would allow police to demand a breath sample from any driver they lawfully stop — a lower bar than the current threshold of suspicion the person has been drinking.
The roadside test would not by itself lead to a charge, but would prompt further investigation including more elaborate testing at the police station.
The government says the aim is to help police catch more drivers at the wheel with more than the legal limit of alcohol in their bloodstream.
Federal ministers insisted Thursday the tougher provisions would not run afoul of the charter of rights.
Police would also be able to demand a saliva sample from a driver if they reasonably suspect the person has drugs in their body.
Telltale signs could include the scent of marijuana, unusually red eyes or abnormal speech patterns.
Should the test lead police to believe an offence has been committed, they could order an examination by an evaluating officer or the taking of a blood sample.
The higher bar for a saliva test than for a breath sample stems from the fact "the science is different," Goodale said.
"With drugs, the oral test is an early part of the evidentiary chain, whereas in the case of a breathalyzer for alcohol it is more definitive evidence in itself."
The legislation would strengthen existing drug-impaired driving provisions in the Criminal Code and create three new offences for having specified levels of a drug in the blood within two hours of driving. The penalties would depend on the drug type and levels, or the combination of alcohol and drugs.
The bill would also stiffen certain minimum fines and maximum penalties and restrict defences that make it harder to enforce laws.
The Canadian Automobile Association's Jeff Walker welcomed the prospect of tougher provisions, but said they were just a piece of the puzzle.
"We're still waiting for the details on additional funding to make the legislation enforceable," Walker said. "This needs to happen sooner rather than later."
While the government committed to making more money available to train police in drug recognition and to acquire testing devices, it didn't say how much or when it would be available, Walker said.
He also emphasized a need for robust public education to counter misconceptions about marijuana's effect on driving.
Goodale said the issue of federal help came up during a teleconference he and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould held Thursday with provincial and territorial counterparts.
"We will have this ongoing conversation with them over the next several weeks and months about the resources that are going to be required here," Goodale said.
The federal government is awaiting the final results of a study of saliva-based roadside devices tested recently by police across the country.
Goodale, however, said the results "have been very encouraging," even when the devices are used in extremely cold weather.
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