I'm loathe to fall into tired rhetoric and hyperbole by throwing around terms like police state and big brother run amok, but this trial balloon from Conservative justice minister Rob Nicholson is frightening, with a myriad of troubling consequences:
The federal Justice Department is considering a new law to randomly force drivers to take roadside breath tests, regardless of whether police suspect they have been drinking, Canwest News Service has learned.
Random breath testing, if adopted, would replace Canada's 40-year-old legislation on impaired driving, which dictates that police can only administer breathalyzer tests if they have a reasonable suspicion of drunk driving.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson publicly raised the prospect of random testing recently at the annual gathering of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"He has his Justice officials putting together the legal parameters," said MADD chief executive officer Andrew Murie.
Nicholson, when asked whether he is considering a new law on random testing, said: "We are looking at all options in that regard."
This is a bad idea on almost uncountable levels.
Firstly, I'm curious to see how they'd get around charter provisions against unreasonable search and seizure. The police can't just stop you and compel you to submit to search. They need to have reasonable grounds for suspicion, they need probable cause. That's a fundamental tenet of a free society, and is a key part of personal liberty. It's what separates us from police states.
Secondly, is it really going to be "random" searches? I don't buy that one for a second. I'd bet good money that certain demographics would get "randomly" pulled over for testing a lot more than other demographics. And it probably wouldn't be the same demographic responsible for the bulk of drunk driving offenses.
Thirdly, I'm a decided legal layman, but this would seem to open up a huge can of legal worms. You randomly pull someone over for a random breathalyzer test, someone that under normal circumstances you have no legal probable cause for doing so. And in that process, while they blow clean you discover they have committed another offense: let's say, the possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Normally, that would be inadmissible because you had no probable cause for the search. But does the "random breathalyzer" law get your foot in the door and make an otherwise inadmissible search become admissible? Would the breathalyzer law be used as an end-run around the wider search laws to widen police powers in ways not intended by the law, and that are contrary to the charter?
For many reasons, I think this is a horrible idea. Look, I support strong sentances for drunk drivers. And if the government has sensible ideas, if they have effective proposals for police tools that will actually work, I'm willing to listen. But a shredding of the charter of rights and a curtailing of civil liberties that would have repercussions far beyond those intended is not the answer here.
Of course, such legislation would never pass without a Conservative majority. Which makes this just yet another example of the Harper Conservatives substituting politicking and appealing to fear for actual effective anti-crime legislation. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers