Saskatchewan

Sask. RCMP will now administer a breathalyzer to every driver pulled over for any reason

Saskatchewan RCMP are the latest police force in the province to announce a breathalyzer policy after Regina Police conducted mandatory alcohol screenings through March.

RCMP, lawyer say drivers could face charges for refusing to submit to alcohol screening

A sign noting the location of RCMP "F" Division Headquarters in Regina, Sask.
Saskatchewan RCMP have announced a new campaign that will require anyone stopped by police to provide a breathalyzer sample. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

Saskatchewan RCMP will now administer a breathalyzer test at every traffic stop in their jurisdiction.

RCMP began the program on April 1 and say they will continue the practice on an ongoing basis.

The campaign is the result of powers given to police in 2018 changes to the Criminal Code. Those changes introduced a section allowing for mandatory alcohol screenings to be conducted on any driver of a motor vehicle without the need for reasonable suspicion. 

"We're asking our traffic service members to ask for a sample from everybody they stop. That way we're not picking and choosing," said Supt. Grant St. Germaine, the officer in charge of Saskatchewan's RCMP traffic services. 

Germaine said the campaign is driven by a desire to make the province's roads safer.

According to a Statistics Canada analysis released in 2021, Saskatchewan had the second-highest rate of police reported impaired driving per capita of any province in Canada (539 incidents per 100,000 population).

That's more than double the national average (228 incidents per 100,000 population) and only behind Prince Edward Island (645 incidents per 100,000 population).

The Mounties say they will not be pulling people over for the sole purpose of completing a breathalyzer. They say it will only be requested once a driver is pulled over for other traffic violations such as speeding, careless driving or brake lights not working. 

An example of 'unjustified power'?

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says it doesn't want impaired drivers on the road, but has been opposed to mandatory alcohol screenings since they were introduced in parliament. 

"Our concern there is that it gives the state an unjustified power to intrude into someone's life without any suspicion that they've done anything wrong," said Shakir Rahim, the director of the association's criminal justice program.

WATCH | Sask. RCMP will now administer a breathalyzer to every driver pulled over for any reason: 

Sask. RCMP will now administer a breathalyzer to every driver pulled over for any reason

1 month ago
Duration 2:03
Saskatchewan RCMP are the latest police force in the province to announce a breathalyzer blitz after Regina Police conducted mandatory alcohol screenings through March.

Rahim maintains that impaired driving is a scourge that needs to be addressed, but said there are better, more effective ways to address the root issue. 

He said the change could open the door for racialized people to be unjustly scrutinized.

"Just like any other type of investigative power or investigative tool, we need to ensure that what we're doing upholds privacy rights and the Charter," he said.

Tyler McMurchy, a spokesperson for Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), confirmed that the RCMP approached SGI about conducting the roadside testing after learning about the Regina Police Service conducting mandatory alcohol screenings through March. 

He said the plan makes sense given the desire for roads to be safer.

"[Drivers will] be asked to take this quick breath test, which does take a couple of seconds and gives a near immediate reading. So it wasn't a substantial addition to the length of those traffic stops," McMurchy said.

Blow or be charged

People asked to provide a breathalyzer test are legally obligated to do so, said Kyla Lee, a lawyer with the Acumen Law Corporation in Vancouver, who specializes in impaired driving cases.

"You do not have the right to speak to a lawyer before blowing into the breathalyzer, so if you're asked to blow, the best advice is to just blow," said Lee.

If a person says they are not going to provide a sample they can an be charged with a criminal offence that carries penalties that are the same or even greater than an impaired driving conviction.

According to the SGI, that can include an immediate roadside licence suspension and an immediate 30-day vehicle impoundment. If convicted, punishment can also include a minimum $2,000 fine and a one-year requirement for an ignition interlock device.

St. Germaine doesn't believe he'll see many people reject a request and confirmed officers will not be providing a warning. If someone rejects a request to provide a breathalyzer, they will be charged, he said.

WATCH | Regina drivers pulled over for any reason this month will have to take a sobriety test: 

If you get pulled over by police this month in Regina, expect to take a breathalyzer test

3 months ago
Duration 1:22
Everyone who gets pulled over for any reason will get a test. SGI and police are telling people about the plan because not everyone is aware of a 2018 federal law that allows it. CBC's Darla Ponace has more on what you need to know about mandatory roadside alcohol tests.

Lee said mandatory alcohol screenings have been used "sparingly" by police forces across the country in the nearly six years since the power was provided by the federal government.

Initiatives like the one announced in Saskatchewan are rare because it's a question of resources. 

"Our system just isn't equipped to have police officers spend the amount of time they need to spend conducting these investigations, and then to have the courts spend the amount of time that needs to be spent prosecuting each person who's caught," said Lee.

Lee said a roadside breathalyzer test only gives officers the grounds to make an arrest and then take their suspect back to the police station for processing and further tests.

Those further tests, which have strict time requirements, are then used in any prosecution. They also require a lot of paperwork, meaning a police officer could be unavailable for hours as they process a potential impaired driver. 

That's why Lee thinks the "announcement of the plan, is the plan itself."

"When police announce they're going to be engaging in more enforcement for impaired driving, people are less likely to get behind the wheel after drinking. They're deterred by the perception that they're going to be caught more than the actual enforcement of the law," she said.

Statistics are not available on the Regina Police Service's mandatory screening blitz in March. SGI says it won't have any data on this RCMP campaign until a later date.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Quon is a reporter with CBC Saskatchewan based in Regina. After working in Atlantic Canada for four years he's happy to be back in his home province. He has previously worked with the CBC News investigative unit in Nova Scotia and Global News in Halifax. Alexander specializes in data-reporting, COVID-19 and municipal political coverage. He can be reached at: Alexander.Quon@cbc.ca.