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Roadside tests could be on the rise for this year's Festive RIDE program, police say

New legislation will enable police to demand breath samples from any driver, at any time, for any reason
Representatives from Anishinabek Police Service, RCMP, OPP and Sault Ste. Marie Police Service kicked off the annual Festive RIDE program outside the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service building Wednesday. James Hopkin/SooToday

New federal legislation giving police power to demand a breath sample from any driver - at any time, and for any reason - could potentially result in more impaired driving-related charges during this year’s Festive RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) program, which kicks off today across Sault Ste. Marie.

That legislation comes into effect across the country Dec. 18.

“It’s a very important change in impaired driving laws,” said Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Cnst. Sonny Spina during Wednesday’s kick off to the Festive RIDE program. “It’s obviously created to ensure the safety of people that are using Ontario’s roads and Canada’s roads, and we know that impaired  driving is still the number one criminal cause of deaths in Canada, so it’s very important for us to do everything we can to help reduce impaired driving across the country.”

Sault Ste. Marie Police Service anticipates an increase in the number of roadside tests administered during this year’s Festive RIDE program due to the incoming legislation.

“Moving forward, it certainly gives our officers the opportunity to conduct those tests at any point in time, and really, it’s all for the safety of the people on the roads in Ontario, and across Canada,” Spina said.

When asked if the legislative changes could be contested in court of the grounds of a constitutional challenge, Spina told reporters that Sault Ste. Marie Police Service enforce the laws the way they’re written, and will leave the rest up to the courts.   

“It’s something that someone could contest in court, however, that’s the way the new law is written, and it’s up to the courts to decide the legalities and the charter implications on that, but we’ll continue to enforce the laws the way they’re written,” Spina told reporters.

During last year’s Festive RIDE program, police from Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police, Anishinabek Police Service and the RCMP conducted a total of 900 vehicle checks - resulting in five impaired driving-related charges and two roadside suspensions being issued.

Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Traffic Sergeant Ray Magnan told reporters those stats are pretty on par with stats from the previous year’s Festive RIDE program.

City police isn't exactly thrilled with that kind of consistency.

“We always hope for a reduction for Festive RIDE, for their numbers, and we’re not seeing that,” Magnan said.

Roughly two weeks ago, two drivers in their early twenties were charged with impaired driving-related criminal offences within hours of each other.   

“That worries me in the fact that we have younger people who grew up with the message of ‘don’t drink and drive’ are now choosing to do that, so that’s why we’ll be out there,” Magnan said.

But it’s hoped the new legislation will help police in sending a message to those younger and novice drivers - who make a choice to drive while impaired.

Under the new legislation, novice drivers under the age of 22 - in addition to G1 and G2 drivers- with any amount of alcohol in their system will face an automatic three-day licence suspension, and run the risk of having their vehicle towed.

It’s also a $198 fine for a three-day suspension, and effective Jan. 1, it’s going to cost people a $250 ‘administration fee’ in order to get their licence reinstated, Magnan told reporters.  

“You will see, I believe, an increase in suspensions, because a lot of people that were sneaking by before, being able to conceal the alcohol, that’s going to stop, and those G1, G2 drivers and young novice drivers especially, if they choose to drink, they’re going to get caught, they’re going to face these suspensions, their vehicles may be towed,” Magnan said.

Motorists are encouraged to contact police if they suspect impaired driving.


James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday based in Sault Ste. Marie
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