Feds consult Ontario about lowering legal limit of alcohol

BC Drunk Driving Law 20100924

An RCMP officer performs a breathalyzer test on a driver during a roadside check in Surrey, B.C., just before midnight on Friday September 24, 2010. The woman blew .05 and received an immediate three-day driving ban and a $200 fine. Strict new drunk-driving laws, now considered to be the toughest in the country, took effect in B.C. this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The federal government is asking Queen’s Park to consider lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit to make it a criminal offence to drive with more than 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has sent requests to several provinces including Ontario and Quebec suggesting the change would make it easier for police officers to crack down on impaired drivers.

The province currently enforces strict penalties under the Highway Traffic Act for people driving between 50 to 80 milligrams of alcohol. That is considered in the “warn range’ according to the Ministry of Transportation.  It comes with a three day roadside licence suspension and administrative penalties. 

The proposed decrease could see criminal charges against people driving with 50 milligrams of alcohol.

Steve Sullivan, who’s the director of victim services at MADD Canada, said the organization has been advocating for the law to be changed for more than 15 years.

He said a change will help shed light on current provincial laws that he said people may be unaware of.

“The big thing is trying to change people’s behaviour,” he said. “I don’t know how many people are actually aware that the provincial levels are at .05 and we know that changing the criminal code will certainly increase the awareness and get people to think about it more.”

Sullivan has observed backlash from the hospitality industry over the proposed change – that could affect businesses selling and distributing alcoholic beverages.

However, he said the change could help reduce the number of deaths and injuries on provincial roadways.

“There’s no one solution,” he said, “It’s public awareness and enforcement but it’s also laws. Laws can deter people but they can also raise awareness.” 

“What we really want to do is prevent people from driving while being impaired.”