The blood alcohol law in Canada is a lot more stringent compared to most countries. In Canada, it is considered a criminal offence to drive with a blood alcohol content or concentration level of .08%. That’s 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Those who drive under the influence of alcohol with a lower BAC aren’t off the hook either. If they’re caught, they may be penalised under various provincial and territorial traffic regulations.
As a DUI lawyer in Alberta, I have helped many clients who have been criminally charged, obtain a favourable outcome. It’s important to emphasize that if you choose to consume any amount of alcohol, and get behind the wheel you are risking your life and potentially the lives of others as well as a criminal record. Even if your BAC is below the legal limit, you can still face charges.
In a study conducted by the Canada Safety Council (CSC), which examined 20 comparable countries, 16 of those countries have BAC limits of .05% or lower while 4 have a BAC limit of .08% or higher. Many claim that Canada’s .08% limit is lagging behind other Western countries. But this is not necessarily true.
The same organisation commissioned another study in 2002, which compared our laws on blood alcohol levels to 77 jurisdictions, which included 8 in Australia, and 51 in the United States. I concluded that if Canada were to reduce the Criminal Code BAC to .05%, it could have tougher penalties than all other comparable countries.
Currently, the minimum fine is already $1,000 for a first offence while the maximum jail term has increased to 18 months. For second and subsequent offences, the minimum prison term has increased to 30 and 120 days respectively.
To find out whether or not our country’s approach to BAC offences is in accordance with other countries, experts have compared the sanctions imposed at .08% for first-time offenders:
- The $1,000 mandatory minimum fine in Canada is higher than Australia’s mandatory minimum fine. It is, in fact, comparable to the maximum fine in majority of the United States jurisdictions. Most European countries, except France (which imposes €4,500 or over $7,300), have lower fines than Canada.
- The longest maximum prison sentence in Canada is the same as that imposed by Germany, 5 years. The second longest is 2 years which is imposed in some jurisdictions in the U.S.
- The driving prohibition in the country is 1-3 years, which is significantly longer than other jurisdictions with a .08% BAC limit. Our minimum is 1 year, which is comparable to the maximum disqualification period in most jurisdictions.
Simply put, Canada’s laws are tougher on drunk drivers than other countries, particularly those that were included in the CSC study. The good news is, because of our firm stance against impaired driving, there has been a marked decrease in road accidents related to drunk driving.
In 1995, there were 1,296 motor vehicle deaths, which involved intoxicated drivers. In 2006, road crashes involving drunk drivers resulted in 907 deaths. There has been a 30% decrease in the number of fatal accidents involving drunk drivers.
CSC president Jack Smith says that Canada’s administrative approach for drivers with lower BACs is also in line with most countries highlighted in the study. According to him, the licence suspensions help take potentially dangerous drivers off the road and encourage them to avoid making a similar offence in the future.