Supreme Court upholds procedures for breathalyzer evidence

Crown can rely on a simple certificate recording the breath readings of the accused

The Supreme Court of Canada is upholding procedures that permit shortcuts for allowing a motorist’s breathalyzer test results into evidence – even in cases where demanding the breath sample may have been unlawful.

In a 5-4 ruling Thursday dismissing the appeal of a British Columbia driver, the court affirmed the existing charter process for challenging a police officer’s decision to order a breath sample.

It means technicians and toxicologists can’t be forced to testify in court about the accuracy and relevance of breath tests when the argument is really about whether police had reasonable grounds to demand testing in the first place.

Instead, the Crown can rely on a simple certificate recording the breath readings of the accused.

Ruling otherwise would require additional witnesses to attend court to give evidence on matters that have no connection to the lawfulness of the breath demand, and only add to the costs and delays in an already overburdened criminal justice system, Justice Michael Moldaver wrote on behalf of the majority.

“No one gains under this approach, but society as a whole loses out as precious court time and resources are squandered,” he said in the court’s reasons.

“The evidentiary shortcuts were designed by Parliament to simplify and streamline drinking and driving proceedings.”

The Supreme Court upheld the impaired-driving conviction of Dion Henry Alex, who was stopped by police in Penticton, B.C., in April 2012.

An RCMP officer detected the scent of liquor and saw an open can of beer on the floor beside a passenger in Alex’s van. Alex failed a roadside test and was taken to the police detachment, where he blew above the legal blood alcohol limit in two subsequent tests.

At issue was the continuing relevance of a 1976 Supreme Court decision that said the Crown did not need to prove the demand for a breath test was lawful in order to rely on evidentiary shortcuts about the accuracy of test readings.

The introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 1980s added a new wrinkle, meaning that an accused person who argues a breath sample was obtained unlawfully can now initiate a charter challenge alleging unreasonable search and seizure.

In the decision Thursday, Moldaver said the charter “provides an effective recourse for challenging the lawfulness of breath demands” as well as a meaningful remedy – possible exclusion of the test results from evidence.

Rather than make a charter challenge, Alex argued during his trial that the absence of grounds for requiring a sample meant the Crown could not use the evidentiary shortcut of a certificate.

The trial judge agreed that police lacked reasonable grounds to demand a breath sample, but cited the 1976 decision in ruling the Crown could file a certificate as evidence of Alex’s blood-alcohol concentration.

Alex unsuccessfully appealed in the British Columbia courts, then took his case to the Supreme Court.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

VIDEO: Sooke couple’s elaborate Christmas display

Couple has been adding to tiny village display for past 11 years

Otter Point Fire Department hosts 26th Polar Bear Swim

Annual event takes place Jan. 1 at Whiffen Spit beach in Sooke

William Head fence debate a big deal out of nothing says officials

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns met with William Head warden Thursday

CRD divided over fire dispatch, agrees to investigate single site option

‘Saanich taxpayers have been subsidizing fire dispatch in the region for several years’

UPDATE: Sooke resident gears up to break world record in squats

The day is fast approaching when Sooke resident Kris Winther will attempt… Continue reading

Me Too At Work: Sexual assault and harassment in the B.C. workplace

Introducing an in-depth look at who is affected and what can be done

B.C. Mountie told to resign after texting teenage sex assault victim

RCMP documents say Const. Brian Eden sent sexually inappropriate photos to 17-year-old girl

Family doctors should learn to treat addiction, not shun patients: scientist

B.C. Centre on Substance Use’s Dr. Evan Wood said efforts underway to change addiction medicine image

Four dog deaths investigated in Cranbrook

One vet suggests a parallel to these deaths and similar ones in 2016

Meningococcal disease outbreak declared in Okanagan

Five cases in last six months among 15- to 19-year-olds, including one in Vernon

Province rejects Ajax mine in Kamloops

KGHM Ajax had proposed a 1,700-hectare open-pit copper and gold mine, just southwest of Kamloops

Border officers rally at B.C.’s Peace Arch

CBSA employees tire of ‘lack of respect’

VIDEO: Colquitz students cram Saanich Police cruisers with food

Food literally burst out of the door from Const. Lisa Bruschetta’s cruiser

Esquimalt Drydock awarded millions in contracts for North Island ferry upgrade

BC Ferries vessel Northern Sea Wolf arrives this week from Athens, Greece

Most Read