Canada's Drunk and Impaired Driving Laws

The Canadian Criminal Code includes measures to prohibit and punish impaired driving. The Criminal Code also prescribes the procedures to be followed to obtain the evidence necessary for prosecution of these offences.

In addition to the measures taken by the federal government, the provinces and territories use their authority to impose provincial licence suspensions. Some provinces impound the vehicles of repeat impaired drivers and they impound cars being driven by persons who are prohibited from driving pursuant to the Criminal Code or have had their licence suspended by the province. The provinces are also responsible for prosecuting and implementing many provisions of the Criminal Code, as part of their jurisdiction over the administration of justice.

The Criminal Code prohibits driving while one's ability to operate a vehicle is impaired by alcohol or drugs. It is illegal for anyone to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in excess of 0.08 (80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood). There are mandatory minimum penalties upon conviction for these offences with escalating penalties for repeat offenders. In addition, impaired driving associated with (not necessarily causing) bodily harm or death carries a significantly greater penalty. The Criminal Code enables police to demand a breath or blood sample when they have reasonable grounds (probable cause) to believe that a driver is impaired. Failure or refusal to provide a sample is an offence carrying the same penalty as driving with a BAC over the legal limit.

Although the terms "driving while intoxicated" and "driving under the influence" as well as the abbreviations "DWI" and "DUI" are used in the United States, they are not in the Criminal Code of Canada and are not used. Instead, common terms are "impaired driving," "impaired operation," and "impaired care and control."

The provinces and territories have legislated administrative penalties or controls that allow immediate action to be taken against suspected impaired drivers. One example of such measures is an automatic licence suspension that takes effect following failure or refusal of a breath test. This suspension is not dependent on there being a Criminal Code conviction. All jurisdictions except Québec have also implemented temporary preventive suspensions for drivers with a BAC that is considered elevated but still below the criminal limit set out in the Criminal Code. All provinces have adopted zero BAC limits for young or novice drivers as part of graduated driver licensing schemes.

Thus, Canada has in place a three tier system of sanctions, depending upon the level of BAC:

Another enforcement tool is the seizure and impoundment of vehicles operated by a prohibited or unlicensed driver. Provincial and territorial laws permit a more swift and certain administrative action as a means of reinforcing the criminal penalties available under the Criminal Code, which take time to proceed with and which may or may not be implemented even where charges are laid.

There are nine distinct offences related to impaired driving in the Criminal Code. These offences are:

Method of Proceeding

Indictable Offence

Summary Conviction

Offence

Minimum

Maximum

Minimum

Maximum

Operating a motor vehicle while the ability to do so is impaired by alcohol or a drug [1]

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

5 years' imprisonment

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

18 months' imprisonment

Operating a motor vehicle having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the concentration of alcohol in the blood exceeds 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood[2]

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

5 years' imprisonment

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

18 months' imprisonment

Failing to comply with a demand for a sample[3]

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

5 years' imprisonment

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

18 months' imprisonment

Driving while impaired by alcohol or a drug causing bodily harm[4]

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

10 years' imprisonment

   

Operating a motor vehicle having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the concentration of alcohol in the blood exceeds 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood causing bodily harm[5]

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

10 years' imprisonment

   

Failing to comply with a demand for a sample causing bodily harm[6]

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

10 years' imprisonment

   

Operating a motor vehicle while the ability to do so is impaired by alcohol or a drug causing death[7]

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

Life imprisonment

   

Operating a motor vehicle having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the concentration of alcohol in the blood exceeds 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood causing death[8]

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

Life imprisonment

   

Failing to comply with a demand for a sample causing death[9]

$1,000 fine (1st offence)

30 days' imprisonment

(2nd offence)

120 days' imprisonment

(subsequent offence)

Life imprisonment

   

After carefully studying the issue of lowering the legal BAC limit from 0.8 to .05, Parliament's Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights concluded that "the potentially negative consequences associated with ‘net widening' and bringing more impaired drivers into criminal court would likely outweigh any potential traffic safety benefit that may result from a lower Criminal Code BAC limit."

Disclaimer: This website does not provide legal or other professional advice or opinion and none should be inferred. Information provided based on a source believed to be reliable source but may be in error or have changed.

Reference:

  • Adapted from Fast, Ed. Ending Alcohol-Impaired Driving: A Common Approach. Report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. Ottawa: House of Commons, June, 2009.

Readings:

  • Asbridge, M., et al. The criminalization of impaired driving in Canada: Assessing the deterrent impact of Canadas first per se law. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2004, 65(4), 450-459.
  • Berglin, Paul. Driving into Canada with a DUI Conviction? Read This First. burglin.com/defense.php
  • Canada DWI or DUI - Driving Convictions. Trip Advisor website.
  • Desapriya, E., et al. Severity of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes in British Columbia: A case-control study. International Journal of injury Control and Safety Promotion, 2006, 13(2), 89-94.
  • Fulbright, Leslie. Canada can bar door for DWI. Seattle Times, August 19, 2002.
  • Impaired Driving: Still a Problem. Transport Canada website.
  • Jonah, Brian, et al. Front-line police officers' practices, perceptions and attitudes about the enforcement of impaired driving laws in Canada. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1999, 31(5).
  • Jonah, Brian, et al. Police officer's perceptions and attitudes about impaired driving law enforcement. In: Mercier-Guyon, C. (ed.) Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety. Annecy, France: Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches en Medicine du Trafic, 1997. Pp. 79-85.
  • Kenkel, Joseph F. Impaired Driving in Canada. Markham, Ontario, Canada: LexisNexis Canada, 2006.
  • National Steering Committee on Impaired Driving (Canada). The Road to Curb Impaired Driving. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: The working Group, 1990.
  • Palmentier, J.P., et al. Alcohol and drugs in suspected impaired drivers in Ontario from 2001 to 2005. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 2009, 16(8), 444-448.
  • Purssell, R.A., et al. Proportion of injured alcohol-impaired drivers subsequently convicted of an impaired driving Criminal Code offence in British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Emergency Medical Care/Journal Canadien de Soins Medicaux d'Emergence, 2004, 6(2), 80-88.
  • Robertson, R., et al. Results from a national survey of Crown prosecutors and defense counsel on impaired driving in Canada. Journal of Safety Research, 2009, 40(1), 25-31.
  • Sen, A. Do stricter penalties deter drinking and driving? An empirical investigation of Canadian Impaired Driving Laws. Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue Canadienne d'Ecomomie, 2001, 34(1), 149-164.
  • Solomon, R., et al. Rating the Provinces and Territories: A National Study of Highway Traffic, Victims, and Insurance Legislation Relating to Impaired Driving. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Mothers Against Driving Canada, 2000.
  • Smith, B. Wayne. Impaired Driving Programs -- A Review of the Canadian Experience: What Makes for an Effective Intervention? Thesis. St. Johns,. Newfoundland, Canada: Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1993.
  • Whiting, James M. The Impact of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on Law Enforcement: A Case Study on Impaired Driving and the Winnipeg Police Service. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: National Library of Canada/Bibliotheque Nationale du Canada, 1998.
  • Wilson, R.J. and Jonah, B.A. Drinkiing-Driving in Canada - Results of a National Household Survey and Implications for Countermeasures. London, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Multidisciplinary Road Safety Conference III. Proceedings. Pp. 269-287.
  • Wilson, J. and Chen, G.G. New Impaired Driving Legislation in British Columbia: The Program and Its Evaluation Plan. In: Mercier-Guyon, C. (ed.) Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety. Annecy, France: Centre d'Etudes dt de Recherches en Medicine du Trafic, 1997. Pp. 963-967

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