Media advisory: Supreme Court of Canada to hear challenge to BC’s drinking and driving law

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For immediate release

Ottawa – Tomorrow, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments in Goodwin, et al. v. British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles). The Court will consider whether changes to BC’s drinking and driving law are constitutional.

In 2010, the government changed BC’s drinking and driving law. Under the new law, a driver who blows a “warn” or a “fail” on the roadside screening device will face automatic penalties. Penalties will also apply if a driver does not give a breath sample. The penalties include a driving ban, having the car seized, and paying fines and fees to have the driver’s license returned, to tow the car and for storage.

Drivers who had either blown a “fail” or who had not given a breath sample challenged the law in 2011. The BC Supreme Court found that the law was unconstitutional only as it applied to drivers who blew a “fail.” The Court said that the law violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because there was no way for drivers to properly challenge the roadside breath test.

In May 2012, the government changed the law again. Now, police must tell drivers that they can ask for a second test on a different machine. The police must also tell drivers that they can ask for a review of the test through the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.

The BCCLA is an intervener in this case. The BCCLA will argue that the drinking and driving law has a penal impact on drivers. Where the purpose of sanctions is punitive and aimed at redressing a wrong done to society at large, the protections of s. 11 of the Charter apply. Here, the sanctions clearly include aspects aimed at punishment rather than mere compliance with traffic regulations. The regime stigmatizes offenders and promotes specific deterrence of future conduct, as well as punishment of past conduct.

The BCCLA is represented by Claire Hunter and Eileen Patel of Hunter Litigation Chambers.

The BCCLA’s argument in this case is available here.


What: Supreme Court of Canada to hear arguments in Goodwin, et al. v. British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles)

When: Oral arguments will begin on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. (EST) / 6:30 a.m. (PST)

Where: Supreme Court of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario)

Who: Representatives of the BCCLA available for comment



Claire Hunter, lawyer for the BCCLA: (604) 891-2403 (Ottawa)

Carmen Cheung, BCCLA Senior Counsel: (604) 630-9758 (Vancouver)