About the Program
Offender Programs & Penalties


1. Are there Federal impaired driving laws and penalties in Canada?

Yes. According to Federal law set out in the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC), it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) of 0.08% or higher. The CCC contains several sections related to impaired driving charges and penalties which are described below.

Charges. Section 253 and Section 254 of the CCC describe the charges that are most often applied in impaired driving cases. These sections state that an individual commits an offence if they operate a vehicle while impaired (by alcohol OR drugs) or if their BAC is more than 0.08%. They also commit an offence if they refuse to provide a breath sample if requested to do so by a peace officer.

Operation while impaired
253. Every one commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle or vessel or operates or assists in the operation of an aircraft or of railway equipment or has the care or control of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or railway equipment, whether it is in motion or not,

(a) while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment is impaired by alcohol or a drug; or

(b) having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the concentration in a person’s blood exceeds 80 milligrams in 100 milliliters of blood (e.g., BAC 0.08% or greater).

Failure or refusal to provide sample
254. (5) Every one commits an offence who, without reasonable excuse, fails or refuses to comply with a demand made to him by a peace officer under this section.

Penalties. Also outlined in the Criminal Code are the punishments that can be applied to those persons convicted of impaired driving. The crime of impaired driving is unique in that it is classified as a hybrid offence (meaning it can be prosecuted as either a summary conviction or an indictable offence depending on how the Crown chooses to prosecute the case). Summary conviction offences are considered lesser in nature and are punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, a period of six months in jail, or both. Indictable offences are considered more serious and as a result, carry greater penalties. Due to the fact that impaired driving is a hybrid offence, it is deemed to be indictable until the Crown makes their election on how they wish to proceed. The mandatory minimum penalties are found in section 255 of the Criminal Code of Canada:

Punishment
255. (1) Every one who commits an offence under section 253 or 254 is guilty of an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable,

(a) whether the offence is prosecuted by indictment or punishable on summary conviction, to the following minimum punishment, namely,

(i) for a first offence, to a fine of not less than $1,000,

(ii) for a second offence, to imprisonment for not less than 30 days, and

(iii) for each subsequent offence, to imprisonment for not less than 120 days;

(b) where the offence is prosecuted by indictment, to imprisonment of a term not exceeding five years; and

(c) where the offence is punishable on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 18 months.

The Criminal Code also describes the penalties associated with impaired driving causing bodily harm and impaired driving causing death (sections 255(2) and 255(3). They are described in more detail at  http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/C-46/page-6.html#anchorbo-ga:l_VIII-gb:s_249

Criminal Code penalties are applied equally in all jurisdictions across Canada. An individual will be charged with a CCC impaired driving offence when they are found to be driving while impaired, while they have a BAC greater than 0.08%, or they cause bodily injury and/or death due to impaired driving. The following table outlines the various penalties associated with these offences as specified in the CCC. 

Criminal Code Offences Table

CRIMINAL CODE PENALTIES FOR IMPAIRED DRIVING CRIMINAL CODE OFFENCES

Driving while impaired BAC > 0.08% or
refusal to provide sample

Impaired driving causing bodily harm Impaired driving causing death
1st offence 2nd offence 3rd offence
Prohibition from driving 12-36 months 24-60 months 36 months-lifetime 10 year maximum Lifetime maximum
Fine

$1,000-$5,000

$1,000-$5,000 (no maximum) $5,000+ (no maximum) No maximum No maximum
Imprisonment

0 – 18 months (5 year max.)

30 days-18 months
(5 year max.)

120 days-18 months
(5 year max.)

Maximum of 10 years Maximum of life imprison-
ment

*(Transport Canada 2009).

It should be noted that the Criminal Code driving prohibition is distinct from the administrative driver’s licence suspensions that are applied in Canadian provinces and territories. The Criminal Code requires a one-year driving prohibition for an impaired driving offence. If granted by the Court, the offender may be able to drive during the period of prohibition if they participate in an alcohol interlock program. For a first offence the offender must serve three months of the driving prohibition; six months for a second offence; and, 12 months for a third offence.

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2. Are there provincial/territorial impaired driving laws and penalties?

Yes. While only the Federal government has the authority to create criminal offences and to apply criminal penalties and imprison impaired drivers, the provinces and territories are responsible for driver licensing. This enables them to create provincial offences and impose administrative penalties for drinking and driving through provincial/territorial Motor Vehicle Acts. This means that provinces/territories are able to impose driver’s licence suspensions and various administrative penalties for drivers with a BAC that is below the criminal level of 0.08%. Almost all jurisdictions have chosen to set a lower BAC limit and it ranges from 0.04% to 0.08%. Provincial/territorial BAC limits are contained in the table below:

Provincial/Territorial BAC Limits

Jurisdiction

BAC Limit

British Columbia

.05

Alberta

.05

Saskatchewan

.04

Manitoba

.05

Ontario

.05

Quebec

.08

New Brunswick

.05

Nova Scotia

.05

Newfoundland

.05

Prince Edward Island

.05

Yukon

.08

Northwest Territories

.05

Nunavut

.06

In addition to the criminal penalties imposed by the Courts, administrative penalties may be imposed by the driver licensing agency in each provinces/territories. These penalties include a roadside driver’s licence suspension and/or an administrative licence suspension. The BAC thresholds and length of suspensions vary from one province/ territory to another. These penalties are outlined in the following table:

Provincial and Territorial Penalties for Impaired Driving

Jurisdiction

BAC

BAC for young/novice drivers

Roadside Suspension (hours)

Pre-Conviction Suspension
(days)

Administrative Licence Suspension  (months)

1st

2nd 3rd +

British Columbia

.05

0.00% for GDL

24

90

12

36

Indefinite suspension

Alberta

.08

0.00% for GDL

24

90

12

36

60

Saskatchewan

.04

0.00% for GDL

24

90

12

36

60

Manitoba

.05

0.00% for first five years of licence

24

90

12-60

60-120

120-lifetime

Ontario

.05

0.00% 21 & under & GDL

72

90

12

36

Lifetime

Quebec

.08

0.00% under 21 & learners licence

-

90

12-36

36-60

60

New Brunswick

.05

0.00% under 21 & GDL

24

90

12

36

60

Nova Scotia

.05

0.00% for GDL

24

90

12

36

Indefinite

Newfoundland

.05

0.00% for GDL

24

90

12
120 (for bodily harm)

36
120 (for bodily harm)

60-lifetime (for 4th conviction or death)

Prince Edward Island

.05

0.00% for GDL

24

90

12

36

60

Yukon

.08

0.00% for GDL

24

90

12

36

Indefinite

Northwest Territories

.05

0.00% for GDL

24

90

12

36

60

Nunavut

.06

no restrictions

24

90

12

36

60

*(Transport Canada 2009).

A link to more information about the motor vehicle legislation in each province and territory related to impaired driving can be found in the table below.

Jurisdiction

Legislation

British Columbia

Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C., 1996, c. 318, s. 215
http://www.bclaws.ca/EPLibraries/bclaws_new
/document/ID/freeside/96318_07

Alberta

Traffic Safety Act, R.S.A., 2001, c. T-6, s. 83-90
http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/laws/stat/
rsa-2000-c-t-6/latest/rsa-2000-c-t-6.html

Saskatchewan

Highway Traffic Act, S.S., c. H-3.1, s. 91
http://www.canlii.org/en/sk/laws/stat/
ss-1986-c-h-3.1/latest/ss-1986-c-h-3.1.html

Manitoba

Highway Traffic Act, S.M., c. H-60, s. 265
http://web2.gov.mb.ca/laws/statutes/1997/c03897e.php

Ontario

Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O., 1990, c. H-8, s. 48
http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/English/elaws_statutes_90h08_e.htm

Quebec

Highway Safety Code, R.S.Q., c. 24.2, s. 202.1-202.8
http://www.canlii.org/en/qc/laws/stat/rsq-c-c-24.2/latest/rsq-c-c-24.2.html

New Brunswick

Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.N.B., c. M-17, s. 310
http://www.canlii.org/en/nb/laws/stat/rsnb-1973-c-m-17/latest/rsnb-1973-c-m-17.html

Nova Scotia

Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.N.S., 1989, c. 293, s. 279
http://www.canlii.org/en/ns/laws/stat/rsns-1989-c-293/77588/rsns-1989-c-293.html#history

Newfoundland

Highway Traffic Act, R.S.N.L., 1990, c. H-3, s. 60
http://www.canlii.org/en/nl/laws/stat/rsnl-1990-c-h-3/latest/rsnl-1990-c-h-3.html#60_

Prince Edward Island

Highway Traffic Act, R.S.P.E.I., c. H-5, s. 277.1
http://www.canlii.org/en/pe/laws/stat/rspei-1988-c-h-5/latest/rspei-1988-c-h-5.html

Yukon

Motor Vehicles Act, R.S.Y., c. 153, s. 256-257
http://www.gov.yk.ca/legislation/acts/move.pdf

Northwest Territories

Motor Vehicles Act, S.N.W.T., c. M-16, s. 116
http://www.canlii.org/en/nu/laws/stat/rsnwt-nu-1988-c-m-16/latest/rsnwt-nu-1988-c-m-16.html

Nunavut

Has yet to pass a Motor Vehicle Act; utilizes the law from the NWT

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3. What penalties are applied to young impaired drivers (under age 18)?  

Efforts to address impaired driving among youth over the past two decades have focused largely on the development of prevention, education, enforcement, and community-based intervention strategies aimed at reducing the risks associated with alcohol and driving while also seeking to reduce the number of impaired driving offences within this age group. However, less attention has been directed towards the nature of penalties that are applied to these offenders once they have been arrested and convicted, and the extent to which they are effective with this population.

Today, in many jurisdictions across Canada, young impaired drivers are frequently subject to the same traditional penalties that are applied to adult offenders (e.g., fines, probation, community service, treatment, and incarceration) despite limited evidence of the effectiveness of these strategies even with adults.

  • Licence suspensions. Youth that are convicted of impaired driving are subject to some period of licence suspension and any related remedial programming. For example, youth convicted of impaired driving in Ontario are required to successfully complete the Back on Track program as a condition of licence reinstatement.
  • Fines. In 2003-2004, fines were imposed in 71.4% of youth impaired driving cases. In Canada, when a youth is sentenced to pay a fine they are required to pay a specific amount to the court that does not exceed $1000. In general, fines for traffic offences among youth are typically $500.00.
  • Probation. Judges ordered probation in approximately 30% of youth impaired driving cases in 2011-2012. Compulsory conditions of probation include keeping the peace and appearing in court when required to do so. A judge may impose additional conditions such as imposing a curfew, requiring a youth to report to a probation officer, enforcing abstinence, etc. The average length of probation for these probation orders was 310 days.
  • Community service.  A judge has the discretion to impose a community service order of up to 240 hours with a maximum completion term of 12 months. In 2011-2012, youth courts ordered community service in approximately 20% of impaired driving cases. These orders are often overseen by community organizations, such as the John Howard Society, that have youth attendance/ intervention centres which provide structured and supervised programming.
  • Treatment. Among youth found to have alcohol/drug dependency issues, the court may order treatment as a condition of probation and this can be combined with non-residential, open-custody and closed-custody arrangements. Treatment may be a viable alternative to incarceration as it is more likely to address the root cause of the problem behaviour.
  • Incarceration. Incarceration is the most punitive sentence that can be given in an impaired driving case and it is an option that is not commonly used. In 2011-2012, only 2 youth were incarcerated on impaired driving charges in Canada. Presumably, these cases were of such a severe nature that no alternative sanction was viewed as appropriate (e.g., impaired driving causing bodily harm or death).
  • Other dispositions. Other dispositions which involve a range of activities such as reprimands, conditional or absolute discharges, restitution, prohibition orders, seizure/forfeiture, essays, apologies, and counselling were ordered in a majority of youth impaired driving cases (92.6%) in 2003-2004.
    *(Dauvergne 2013)

Aside from the traditional dispositions that are commonly imposed, courts may also utilize some non-traditional dispositions such as restorative justice initiatives. In recent years there has been a trend towards restorative measures to address youth crime. Restorative justice has many benefits as it seeks to give all parties involved a voice, assists in the healing process, and allows for the reduction of system costs. Some restorative justice measures include:

  • Family group conferencing;
  • Victim-offender mediation;
  • Victim-offender reconciliation; and,
  • Victim impact panels and emergency room visitation.

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4. Why has it been proposed that the criminal BAC limit be lowered from 0.08% to 0.05%?

In the past few years there has been discussion and debate about lowering the criminal BAC limit in the CCC from 0.08% to 0.05%. This move has been proposed for two reasons. First, it has been suggested it would make Canada’s approach to impaired driving more consistent with the approach taken by some European countries that have reduced their criminal BAC limit to 0.05%. It also is proposed based on research findings showing that this move can reduce alcohol-related crashes.

The scientific rationale behind lowering the limit is based on research study results that demonstrate that impairment actually begins as low as 0.02%. So drivers with low BACs have a slightly higher crash risk as compared to non-drinking drivers (with the exception of young drivers who have a much greater crash risk even when sober). Although the risk of drivers with low BACs being involved in a serious crash is relatively low, such risk also varies as a function of age and gender (Zador et al. 2000; Blomberg et al. 2009; Peck et al. 2008). In general:

  • BACs of 0.03% are associated with a two to three-fold increase in crash risk;
  • BACs of .05 are associated with a 6 to 17 times increase in crash risk.

Although drivers with low BACs are less at risk of causing a serious crash than drivers with high-BACs, they do comprise a large group of drinking drivers, so collectively they need to be deterred from drinking and driving.

It is also worth noting that many comparable nations already have a BAC of 0.05% as the highest permissible level that a driver can legally have in their system. Lowering the limit in Canada would result in greater uniformity across the country given that most provinces already enforce .05 for administrative purposes (Paciocco 2002).

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5. How would lowering the legal BAC limit to 0.05% impact the justice system?

Research suggests that lowering the legal limit, while it may have a positive deterrent effect, could dramatically increase the volume of impaired driving cases currently being processed through the justice system.

There are currently more than 50,000 impaired driving cases that are processed by Canadian courts on an annual basis involving BACs of 0.08% or higher. In addition, a 2008 survey revealed that there were 47,000 additional charges imposed by the provinces for BACs ranging from 0.05%-0.079%. This number does not include the number of 0.05% charges imposed in Ontario, Quebec or Alberta. This suggests that lowering the criminal BAC to 0,05% has the potential to add another 50,000-100,000 cases to the justice system, in addition to the existing 50,000 criminal cases already processed on an annual basis. Hence, lowering the criminal BAC limit has the potential to create a backlog in the court system and result in an administrative burden for individuals working within the system (e.g., law enforcement officials, Crown attorneys, judges, probation officers, etc.).

This is of particular concern in light of findings from a 2007 national survey of Crown prosecutors and defence counsel which revealed that prosecutors have a criminal caseload that is 4 times greater than that of defence counsel. In addition, an estimated 40% of cases go to trial and the average conviction rate for cases going to trial is just 52% (although the overall conviction rate for all cases is 78%). It also takes between nine and 14 months for cases to be resolved. This illustrates that the justice system is having difficulty processing the current volume of cases.

Collectively, these data suggest that it would be very challenging for the justice system to effectively manage a significant influx of impaired driving cases and the impact of these additional cases on the system should not be underestimated. The consequences of a criminal conviction and criminal record are quite profound and individuals may be disinclined to plead guilty to lower BAC charges. This is particularly true as a criminal record can result in a driver’s licence prohibition, impacts employment and restricts ability to travel to the United States or other countries, to say nothing of increased insurance costs, fines and fees. The influx of low-BAC offenders may also erode limited resources that are available to deal with repeat and hard core drunk drivers who are more often responsible for alcohol-related deaths and serious injuries.

At this time, there are no easy answers to resolve these issues. On one hand there is clear scientific evidence to support lowering the criminal BAC limit; on the other hand, there are a number of practical impediments to implementing such a change and managing its effect on the justice system. As a result, the debate about whether Canada should lower the legal BAC limit and how this can be achieved will likely continue in future.        

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6. How do BAC limits and penalties in Canada compare with other countries?

A study conducted in 2002 (and revaluated in 2009) examined trends in BAC levels and penalties between Canada and 20 comparable nations that have similar political and legal traditions (Paciocco 2002). This research revealed that most nations have a BAC limit of .05 or .08 and that allowable BACs can range from .02 to .10 based on results from the many countries that were surveyed. A summary of these results are shown in the table below:

Lowest Allowable BAC Levels 

BAC Level

Countries

.05 or lower

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway (0.02%), Portugal, Spain, Sweden (0.02%), Switzerland

.08 of higher

Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States

* (Paciocco 2002, Helis 2009).

The table below compares the administrative and criminal BAC limits and penalties that may be applied to first offenders in Canada, and penalties for a first offence in those countries with a 0.05% BAC limit. As this table illustrates, there is no uniform approach to penalties for first offenders and they vary on a nation-by-nation basis. It is also worth noting that many of these countries have different BAC limits to distinguish between administrative and criminal punishments, similar to the situation in Canada.   

Penalties for a 1st Impaired Driving Offence in .05 Jurisdictions

Country

BAC

Jail/Fine

Suspension/Prohibition

Canada

.05 – administrative
.08 – criminal

- jail possible at .08
- mandatory minimum fine

- minimum prohibition of one year

Austria

.05 – administrative

- jail possible only with collision
- fines increase with BAC

- one to four months

Belgium

.05 – administrative

-no jail possible
-fines begin at .05

- BAC .05-.07: three hour driving bam
-BAC .08-.15: 15 days – 6 months

Denmark

.05 – administrative
.20 – criminal

- no jail possible until .20
- fines increase with BAC

- .05 -.12 min 3 year suspension

Finland

.05 –criminal

- possible at .05, increased penalties at .12
-fines at .05

- suspension one month – one year starting at .05

France

.05 – administrative
.08 – criminal

- jail only possible at .08
- fine at .05

- max three year suspension

Germany

.05 – administrative
.11 – criminal

- jail only possible at .05 if collision, .11 otherwise.
- fine at .03 if collision; at .05 without

- suspension at .05 increasing with BAC

Greece

.05 – administrative
.11 – criminal

- jail only possible at .11
- fine at .05

- suspension only possible at .08

Netherlands

.05 – administrative
.21 – criminal

- jail only possible at .21
- fine at .05

- temporary/permanent ban possible

Norway

.05 –criminal

-jail not possible
- fine possible

- suspension at .05

Portugal

.05 – administrative

- fine at .05, increasing with BAC

- suspension at .05

Spain

.05 – administrative

- jail not possible
- fine at .05

- suspension at .05

Sweden

.02 –criminal

- jail possible at .02
- fines possible at .02

- not indicated

Australian Capital Territory

.05 – administrative
.08 – criminal

- jail possible at .08
- fine at .05

- suspension at .05

New South Wales, AU

.05 – administrative
.08 – criminal

- jail possible at .08
- fine possible at .08

- prohibition possible at .08

Northern Territory, AU

.05 – criminal

- jail possible at .05
- fine possible at .05

- suspension possible at .05, mandatory at .08

Queensland, AU

.05 - criminal

- jail possible at .05
- fine possible at .05

- suspension at .05

South Australia, AU

.05 – administrative
.08 – criminal

- jail possible at .08
- fine possible at .05

- 6 month suspension mandatory at .08, with longer suspension possible

Tasmania

.05 – criminal

- jail possible at .05
- fine possible at .05

- 6 month suspension mandatory at .05, with longer suspension possible

Victoria, AU

.05 – administrative

- no jail possible for first BAC offence
- fine possible

- suspension at .05

Western Australia, AU

.05 – administrative
.15 – criminal

 

- no jail possible unless impaired; deemed at .15 to be impaired
- fine at .05

- suspension at .05

* (Paciocco 2002, Helis 2009).

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7. What remedial programs are available in provinces and territories in Canada?

British Columbia

In British Columbia, the Responsible Driver Program (RDP) is offered to offenders convicted of impaired driving. Drivers with criminal impaired driving convictions and drivers who have multiple Motor Vehicle Act drinking driving prohibitions are eligible to participate. The Superintendent of the Office of Motor Vehicles sends a letter to all offenders who are required to complete the program; for many offenders licence reinstatement is conditional on successful completion of the program.

The RDP costs $880 and begins with an initial screening. Based on the results of this screening, the offender will be referred to one of two programs that will best meet their individual needs. These programs include:

  • 1-day education session conducted in a classroom setting; and
  • 16-hour group counseling session that can be scheduled over three months.
After an offender has completed their assigned RDP, an assessment will be conducted to determine whether there has been sufficient progress and if the offender is fit to drive. The OSMV (Office of Superintendent of Motor Vehicles) can make several determinations regarding driver status including full reinstatement, requirement to install an interlock, or denial of licence reinstatement.

Alberta

Alberta’s remedial programs are overseen by the Alberta Motor Association (AMA) who delivers them on behalf of the Alberta Transportation Safety Board (ATSB). Upon being convicted of impaired driving, both first and repeat offenders are required to complete an education program in order to have their licence reinstated. First offenders are required to complete ‘Planning Ahead’ and repeat offenders are required to complete ‘IMPACT’.

Planning Ahead is a one-day education course for first offenders and costs $220. The focus of the class is to prevent future incidence of impaired driving. During the course, offenders will learn the following:

  • how to separate drinking and drug use from driving by creating an action plan prior to heading out;
  • the importance of zero tolerance for impaired driving;
  • how impairment affects an individual’s ability to operate a motor vehicle; and,
  • how lifestyle choices can put an individual at increased risk of impaired driving and other negative consequences.

IMPACT is a weekend live-in assessment for alcohol and/or drug use and costs $750. The program consists of a pre-treatment course for repeat offenders (those drivers who have two or more convictions within a ten-year window). The focus of this course is to prevent impaired driving in the future by addressing the underlying alcohol dependency issues that are leading to the criminal behaviour. During the course, offenders will cover the following:

  • how their alcohol/drug use has negatively impacted their lives;
  • examination of the problems that their alcohol/drug use has caused;
  • establish an action plan to begin to deal with their dependency issues; and
  • receive an assessment summary report with recommendations for follow-up.

The ATSB will obtain a copy of the assessment from the IMPACT program. The assessment will include recommended supports, if any, by the facilitator of the course and ATSB can impose these recommendations (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) attendance, commence or continue a program with the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC) a referral to Driver Fitness and Monitoring (DFM) for medical testing for alcohol dependency, etc.).

Saskatchewan

Every offender convicted of impaired driving in Saskatchewan is required to complete an addiction screening with a drug and alcohol counsellor. If the screening shows no dependency issues, the offender will then be required to complete the Drive Without Impairment (DWI) program. The program is administered by the SGI (Saskatchewan Government Insurance) Driver Licensing and Vehicle Registration and the cost is $150.

The DWI program, which takes approximately 16 hours to complete, is designed to educate offenders about the serious nature of drinking and driving and provides them with strategies on how to separate drinking from driving. Offenders are required to successfully complete this course in order to have their licence reinstated.

If the addiction screening reveals that there is substance dependency, the offender will then be mandated to complete an individualized recovery program. A specific treatment plan that meets the individual’s needs will be developed and will include weekly individual or group counselling as well as self-help group participation (e.g., AA) and possibly a stay at an in-patient treatment facility. Similarly, those offenders convicted of a second or subsequent impaired driving offence may also stay a minimum of 14 days in the Saskatchewan Impaired Driver Treatment Centre (SIDTC) in lieu of jail time. The recovery program is considered complete when the offender is classified as low risk to repeat alcohol/drug-related problem behaviour.

Manitoba

In Manitoba, all offenders convicted of impaired driving must be assessed and complete one of three programs offered by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM). These include an education program, a high-risk program, and treatment. The cost associated with these programs is $625.

The assessment process begins with the offender completing two questionnaires followed by an interview with a trained addictions counsellor to assess the individual's alcohol and/or drug usage. Based on the outcome of the assessment, the offender will be referred to the most appropriate intervention strategy.

The purpose of each of the impaired driver programs is to assist individuals in avoiding future impaired driving offences. The programs are as follows:

  • Educational Program – the education program consists of a one-day, eight-hour workshop. The focus of this course includes awareness of impaired driving laws and consequences, the effects of alcohol and other substances on driving ability, separating drinking from driving, accepting responsibility, and making alternative arrangements/planning ahead. This program is run in a group setting with a maximum of 15 participants.
  • High Risk Program – involves both individual and group counseling sessions. This program is educational in focus and geared toward high-risk offenders (those assessed with a high likelihood of re-offending). During individual sessions the offender will work with a counsellor and create a contract for involvement, establish goals, and develop methods to monitor progress and measure substance usage while in the program. There are six group sessions spread over six months totaling 12.5 hours. These sessions focus on risk reduction strategies and involve examination of individual substance use patterns. Offenders are encouraged to develop plans that will assist them in reducing their alcohol consumption levels.
  • Rehabilitative Program Options – the treatment options are community-based and are for those offenders who are assessed as having serious alcohol dependency issues. Treatment can be administered through one of the following three schedules:
    • Once a week for three hours over a ten week period;
    • Daily intensive sessions five days a week for a period of three weeks with additional self-help; or,
    • A residential program lasting 21-28 days with additional self-help.

A copy of the assessment is sent to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles along with the recommendations. Successful completion of the education program and/or treatment will be required for licence reinstatement. 

Ontario

All drivers convicted of a drinking and driving offence in Ontario must complete the remedial measures program prior to reinstatement. The Back on Track (BOT) program is administered by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and costs $578 for the full program. The program consists of three components:

  • Assessment (for those convicted of impaired driving only) – determines the extent of the drinking and driving problem and whether an education or treatment program is most appropriate;
  • Education or treatment program – the driver must successfully complete the appropriate program aimed at preventing drinking and driving. These programs focus on how alcohol affects driving performance, the consequences of impaired driving and ways to avoid drinking and driving; and
  • Follow-up interview – this takes place six months after the completion of the education or treatment program to revisit the skills obtained and goals set.

The education program is eight hours in length and focuses on:

  • the consequences associated with impaired driving (legal and personal);
  • how alcohol and other drugs affect one’s ability to drive;
  • myths, misconceptions, and realities about alcohol, drugs, and impaired driving; and,
  • ways to avoid drinking and driving.

The treatment program is 16 hours long and is for those offenders who have been assessed as having alcohol/drug dependency issues. This program focuses on:

  • the effects of alcohol and other drugs on driving performance;
  • the health and behaviour effects of alcohol intake;
  • understanding the consequences of impaired driving;
  • assessing individual attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours in relation to impaired driving;
  • learning how to plan ways to avoid situations that involve alcohol or other drugs and driving;
  • developing a plan to avoid another impaired driving offence;
  • enhancing coping skills for dealing with anger and stress; and,
  • recognizing the signs of problem drinking and assessing personal drinking levels and impacts on drinking on one’s personal life; and,
  • making a commitment to reduce or end the consumption of alcohol/drugs.
Six months after the completion of the education or treatment program, a follow-up interview takes place to assess success in meeting program goals. The meeting lasts for approximately 30 minutes and during this time, the offender and counsellor will also review strategies for avoiding drinking and driving developed during the program. Once the offender has met all of the program requirements, the Ministry of Transportation will be notified of their completion and the offender will be eligible for licence reinstatement.

Quebec

All offenders convicted of impaired driving in Quebec are required to undergo an assessment. A more comprehensive assessment must be completed by all repeat offenders (as well as first offenders who have an unfavourable initial assessment) to determine whether or not their alcohol consumption levels are too excessive to safely operate a motor vehicle. Following the assessment, offenders are required to complete an education course as a condition of licence reinstatement.

The driver education program, Alcofrein, is administered by the Societe de l’Assurance Automobile du Quebec (SAAQ). The program aims to raise awareness and prevent future incidences of impaired driving. During the course, the focus is on:

  • the legal, social, and personal consequences of impaired driving;
  • the effects of alcohol consumption on the body; and,
  • dispelling myths and misconceptions about alcohol consumption and impaired driving.
The Alcofrein session lasts for approximately three hours and costs $150. Upon successful completion, the offender will be eligible for full licence reinstatement.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick has two different remedial programs for individuals convicted of impaired driving. Both of these programs are focused on preventing recidivism by assisting offenders in making lifestyle changes and their completion is a requirement of licence reinstatement.

The Auto Control program is designed for first offenders and includes an assessment as well as education. The program is run in a group format with up to 18 participants and costs approximately $235. It involves an alcohol risk assessment and a two day course which covers topics such as the effect of alcohol on the body and behaviour, the consequences/costs associated with impaired driving, and how to avoid impaired driving.

The Auto Control Plus program is designed for repeat offenders and covers the same topics as the Auto Control program. It also focuses on teaching techniques for behaviour modification and self-management in an effort to address the underlying dependency issues that lead to impaired driving. This program is unique in that it involves family members in the process so that offenders can see how their alcohol consumption negatively impacts those around them. At the conclusion of the program, all participants will attend a victim impact panel and the hope is that the offender will seek additional treatment for their alcohol dependency issues. The cost for this week-long program is approximately $480.

Upon successful completion of the assigned program, the Department of Public Safety will be notified and the offender will be eligible for full licence reinstatement assuming that they have met all reinstatement criteria.

Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, all offenders convicted of impaired driving (for both alcohol and drugs) are required to undergo an assessment for alcohol/drug dependency and participate in the Driving While Impaired (DWI) program. This program is overseen by Addiction Services of Nova Scotia and costs approximately $415. Participation in the program is required by provincial law and licence reinstatement is conditional on successful completion. The entire program can take up to a year to complete as it includes an individual assessment, group education sessions, and possibly individual counseling.

The assessment for alcohol dependency consists of an interview with Addiction Services staff where the extent of dependency is evaluated. If it is determined that the offender has a serious drug/alcohol problem, they will be referred for treatment or counselling. The assessment may be completed during the course of one to three clinical/treatment sessions which average about 60 minutes in length.

The education program can be up to two days in length and is delivered to a group of less than 20 offenders. Its focus is educational and aims to provide offenders with information about impaired driving and how to avoid recidivating. Topics covered include:

  • impaired driving laws (both provincial and federal);
  • the effect that alcohol has on the body and BAC;
  • the impact that drugs have on driving ability;
  • the impact that fatigue has on driving ability;
  • attitudes about drinking and driving; and,
  • the difference between impairment and intoxication.

Newfoundland

In Newfoundland, all offenders convicted of impaired driving are required to complete the ‘Think First’ Program offered by Safety Services Newfoundland as a condition of licence reinstatement. Repeat offenders are required to undergo an assessment for alcohol and drug dependency. If this assessment indicates that a problem is present, these offenders will also be required to complete an alcohol and drug rehabilitation program. 

The Think First Program costs $160 and consists of one, four-hour session. The program is educational in focus and consists of five components that examine the following:

  • examination of offender knowledge and beliefs;
  • review of impaired driving laws (Criminal Code, Highway Traffic Act) and conditions for licence reinstatement;
  • discussion of the effects of alcohol on the body and how it impedes driving ability;
  • discussion of ways to avoid becoming impaired and identification of strategies on how to plan ahead; and,
  • closing, identification of resources/where to go for additional assistance, and distribution of certificates.
Repeat offenders must undergo an assessment to determine the extent of their alcohol and drug addiction and may need to complete a drug rehabilitation program to restore their licence. Upon successful completion of the course, a notification will be sent to the Motor Vehicle Registration Division.

Prince Edward Island

All offenders convicted of impaired driving in Prince Edward Island are required to complete a Driver Rehabilitation Course (DRC) administered by the Highway Safety Division (HSD) of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. The course is comprised of a six hour educational program surrounding drinking and driving and the effects of alcohol. Completion of the course is required as a condition of licence reinstatement.

The DRC includes presentations from law enforcement officials, legal practitioners, and addiction counsellors with a focus on drinking and driving as well as drinking habits. Specific topics covered include:

  • the effect of alcohol on the body, BAC, and its impact on one’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle;
  • federal and provincial impaired driving legislation;
  • the consequences and costs associated with impaired driving;
  • strategies/interventions for treating alcohol dependency; and,
  • making lifestyle changes and improving decision-making.
Repeat offenders may also be subject to a Driver Risk Assessment to determine whether or not they should undergo further assessment and possibly treatment.

The Territories

Northwest Territories does not currently have a mandated remedial program in place for impaired drivers. However, the Ministry of Transportation states that convicted individuals may be required to complete: a driver improvement program; an alcohol dependency awareness program; an alcohol treatment program; or, any other condition the Registrar considers appropriate. - See more at: http://changetheconversation.ca/drinking_and_driving_facts/nwt_nunavut_table.php#sthash.Undfs3w4.dpuf

 

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8. Do all provinces/territories have an alcohol ignition interlock program for impaired drivers?

Currently, all provinces and territories in Canada, with the exception of Nunavut, have an alcohol ignition interlock program for impaired drivers. The first alcohol ignition interlock program in Canada was established in Alberta in 1990. Following an evaluation of this program that demonstrated substantial reductions in repeat offences among those offenders that participated (Beirness et al. 1997; Voas et al. 1999), other jurisdictions began to develop and implement similar programs. Each jurisdiction’s programs and penalties are slightly different, but they involve similar key components.

An alcohol interlock is a breath-testing device that is connected to the starter or ignition of a vehicle, or other on-board computer system. To start the vehicle the driver must provide a breath sample with an alcohol concentration below a specific pre-set limit (usually corresponding to blood alcohol concentration of .02%). The driver is required to deliver repeated breath tests while the vehicle is in use to ensure the driver remains sober throughout the driving trip. These devices have many programmable features and anti-circumvention mechanisms. It is important to note that the alcohol interlock is connected to the starter system of a vehicle and not to the engine, and therefore will only intervene in the engine starting process and cannot affect or stop a running engine.

The following table outlines the specifics of the various interlock programs in Canada:

Interlock Programs in Canada

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9. What are the consequences of an impaired driving charge and/or conviction?

There are a wide range of consequences that are associated with an impaired driving charge or conviction. Consequences in relation to criminal and administrative penalties that may be applied to impaired drivers were described previously and are summarized briefly below:

  • roadside driver licence suspension;
  • pre-conviction driver licence suspension;
  • post-conviction administrative licence suspension;
  • vehicle impoundment or forfeiture;
  • criminal driving prohibition;
  • remedial licensing program;
  • treatment program
  • participation in an alcohol interlock program;
  • fines; and
  • imprisonment.

There are also a variety of personal consequences that can impact on an individual’s daily life, finances, and travel ability. These include:

  • stigma, social embarrassment associated with arrest or conviction;
  • legal fees and court costs;
  • increased insurance premiums and additional surcharges;
  • licence reinstatement fees;
  • a criminal record that inhibits employment opportunities that involve a outine police check or a background check by employers;
  • a criminal record will also affect and possibly limit an individual’s ability to cross the border into other countries including the United States;
  • costs of participation in a remedial licensing program; and,
  • costs of participation in an alcohol interlock program.

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10. Can an impaired driving conviction impede an individual’s ability to travel to other countries?

Yes. A criminal conviction for impaired driving has consequences beyond licence suspension and fines. A drunk driving conviction results in a criminal record which can potentially limit an individual’s ability to travel and gain entry into other countries. Individuals with an impaired driving conviction should determine whether they will be permitted entry at their destination before they travel.    

Travel to the United States by Canadian residents

According to the U.S. Consular Services in Canada:

“If you have any criminal record, no matter how minor or long ago the offence, you may be refused a visa or entry into the United States. There may also be problems in traveling through U.S. airports. Under U.S. law, a pardon issued by Canadian authorities is not recognized for purposes of entry into the United States. Even though you may have entered the United States without hindrance in the past, you may be denied entry at a future date based upon disclosure/discovery of your criminality”.

Any past criminal record must be declared at the U.S. border and it is illegal to attempt to enter the United States with a criminal record and not disclose it. Not all criminal convictions create an ineligibility to enter the U.S., but attempting to gain entry without declaring that you have been arrested could result in a permanent ineligibility and/or detention at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security enforcement facility while a Customs and Border Protection officer determines your admissibility.

Generally speaking, an impaired driving conviction should not bar you from entering the United States. In most cases, only individuals convicted of felony offences or crimes of “moral turpitude” (please see US Customs and Border Protection Agency for an explanation) are prevented from entering the U.S. In addition, U.S. Courts have determined that a drunk driving conviction (not involving injury or death) does not constitute a crime of moral turpitude. However, at a minimum you should be prepared to disclose any criminal convictions and this may result in additional investigation or delays at the border.

For those with an impaired driving conviction who want to enter the U.S., there are several options to do so. Several experienced defence attorneys suggest that individuals carry a certified true copy of the information relating to the conviction (court documents) along with the relevant section of the Criminal Code of Canada. They also suggest it may be beneficial to have a letter from your doctor stating that you do not suffer from alcohol dependency or drug addiction. Lastly, having a certified true transcript of the evidence underlying the conviction is also recommended by a number of defence attorneys.

If you have previously attempted to cross the U.S. border without documentation (or your crime has not been pardoned), you may have a Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) file and an FBI file. If this has occurred, you will be required to apply for a U.S. Entry Waiver. The waiver is basically an admission of your offence and disclosure of the details surrounding it. Fingerprints must be submitted for identification purposes to both the RCMP and the FBI. The waiver process can be quite lengthy. It can take between 3-10 months to make the application and gather all of the necessary supporting documentation. It can then take an additional 5-12 months for the INS to review the application and issue the waiver. These waivers can also cost more than $500 to complete.

Travel to Canada for U.S. residents

For an U.S. resident with an impaired driving conviction on their record, gaining entry into Canada is an equally complicated process. An individual who has been convicted of a crime may be considered rehabilitated and eligible for entry after a certain period following the completion of their sentence (for impaired driving this is typically after five years). If the person cannot qualify they may apply for individual criminal rehabilitation after the five year waiting period. The process for submitting this application involves acquiring supporting documentation and paying a $180 fee. Again, this process can take in excess of a year to complete.

Travel issues are not only restricted to border crossing but also air travel. For individuals who land in Canadian airports there is a requirement to clear customs, even if their final destination is outside of Canada. If an individual has an impaired driving conviction they may be detained for additional screening and interrogation before being permitted to enter Canada or make a connection on an international flight.

Ultimately, travel can be greatly restricted as a result of an impaired driving conviction and there is great inconvenience and cost associated with acquiring special travel waivers or exemptions. Several nations may outright deny entry to anyone who has ANY criminal charges/convictions if there are no distinctions between classes of offences (as is the case in Canada). These are all consequences outside of the traditional court or administrative sanctions that one typically associates with an impaired driving conviction and it demonstrates how the decision to drink and drive can have unanticipated consequences. 

For more information, please consult:

Additional information* for Americans traveling to Canada available here (pdf).

* The provision of this information does not constitute an endorsement by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation.

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11. Can hosts be held legally liable for impaired drivers leaving their residence?

The basis for liability as a result of negligence is established in the common law. Canadian courts have found individuals to be liable when there is a breach of a duty to care. This refers to a failure to act when there is a reasonably foreseeable risk. The guiding principle of liability assumes that there is a ‘special relationship’ between the injured party and the injuring party which “makes it reasonable to conclude that the latter owes a duty to the former not to expose him to unreasonable risk of harm” (Jordan House v. Menow and Honsberger, 1973 – this landmark case can be found at:http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/1973/1973canlii16/1973canlii16.html).  

Based on this precedence, it has been established that commercial providers of alcohol owe a duty of care to their guests and that a special relationship exists between a host and patron which imply this positive duty of care (Timms 2007). As a result, establishments such as bars and taverns can be held liable if a patron causes a collision (and subsequently, damage, injury, or death to a third party) after leaving the premises if there is a reasonably foreseeable risk that they could be in an collision. The third party who is affected is entitled to recover compensation for the injury or damage that they sustained from the establishment that sold the liquor. For these reasons, tavern/bar owners are required to take affirmative action to prevent an intoxicated patron from harming both themselves and others (Timms 2007).

Liability is not limited to commercial providers of alcohol. Both occupiers and employers can also be held accountable for the actions of guests on their property or employees. Occupiers (owners or renters of property) can be held responsible for injuries of guests that occur on their property as a result of poor conditions. They can also be held responsible for the conduct of guests and for incidents that arise out of activities (i.e., alcohol consumption) that are allowed on their premises (see Waldick v. Malcolm, 1991 at: http://csc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/1991/1991scr2-456/1991scr2-456.html). It has also been found that employers and employees have a special relationship that extends beyond that of inviter and invitee and subsequently, the employer has an obligation to provide a safe work environment and to monitor the behaviour of employees, especially when consuming alcohol (see Jacobsen v. Nike, 1996 at: http://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcsc/doc/1996/1996canlii3429/1996canlii3429.html).

The 1990s also saw an increase in attempts to establish social host liability (i.e., whether or not the host of a party could be held liable for the actions of their guests). The first case that went to court in Canada was decided in March of 2001. In Prevost v. Vetter (http://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcca/doc/2002/2002bcca202/2002bcca202.html), the teenage son of the defendants hosted a party at his parents home while they were asleep. Youth were consuming alcohol in the family’s yard and following a noise complaint, the Vetters were awoken by their son but chose to remain in the house assuming that he would be able to handle the situation. As the party dispersed, one of the guests left with six passengers and subsequently crashed causing serious injuries to the plaintiff who was thrown from the vehicle.   

Even though the Vetters did not serve alcohol, they did not discourage others from bringing and consuming it on their property. Once they were aware that a party was occurring they were in a position to exercise control and did not (Timms 2007). It was reasonably foreseeable that harm could result from their failure to take control. The case was settled before trial.

Additional cases have tackled the issue of whether there is a duty of care extended to adults at a party but at present, judges have decided that it is up to the government to provide criteria as to when a social host is liable for damage and/or injury caused by one of their guests (see Childs v. Desmoreaux, 2006 at: http://csc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2006/2006scc18/2006scc18.html). In reviewing the issue, the Supreme Court left room for liability to proven in a situation where a host continues to serve alcohol to a guest knowing that they are already intoxicated and could potentially be getting behind the wheel of a car (Timms 2007).

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12. How can hosts reduce their liability for impaired drivers leaving their residence?

In order for hosts to be responsible and avoid the risk of being found liable, arrangements should be made ahead of time to accommodate guests who will be drinking. All hosts should consider the following:

  • ensure that all guests have designated drivers;
  • take the keys of individuals who plan on drinking when they arrive;
  • provide the number for cabs and monitor when individuals are leaving;
  • do not continue to provide alcohol to guests who are visibly intoxicated;
  • ensure that the premises are safe so that intoxicated individuals do not hurt themselves;
  • offer space to sleep for those who have no way of getting home; and
  • if a guest insists on driving after consuming alcohol, call the police.

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Last updated February 2014

 

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