Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Nov 29, 2010)

The Golden Goose

By Bob Cooper




A guest on a radio talk show this morning was a defence lawyer who specializes in Impaired Driving cases.  He was queuing up with restaurant and bar owners for crying towels in the wake of BC’s new Motor Vehicle Act amendments on drinking and driving.  This followed a headline in the Sun announcing a dramatic drop in impaired driving charges under the Criminal Code.  The lawyer pointed out that although the amendments are being touted as the toughest laws in Canada that anyone processed under them will not have a criminal record.  He was also critical of the fact that the law effectively places the individual police officer in the position of judge and jury at the side of the road and the only appeal is an administrative process before an official in the Motor Vehicle Branch.

Frankly, I agree with him and so do a lot of police officers including the President of the Vancouver Police Union, Tom Stamatakis.  The primary architect of the new rules, former Solicitor-General Kash Heed, got an earful from me and the others in our foursome on the golf course this summer.  We were going to make him drive each of us home after the usual refreshments at the end of the round.  I think the new regulations, though well-intended, are too strict and were rolled out in an atmosphere of ‘zero tolerance’.  They cast too wide a net that will scoop up a lot of innocent people along with the hard-core drunks they should be catching.  

What most people are unaware of is that these new regulations are merely a symptom of a justice system that is collapsing under its own weight.  This applies across the board and is not limited to Impaired Driving but since it’s the hot topic consider these facts.  When I came on the job in 1974 a Constable in a one-man car (as most were then) could process an impaired driver from roadside stop to jail in 20 or 30 minutes and be back in service.  Now it takes a 2 man car roughly 3 to 4 hours to complete the same process.  Dealing with the same situation at the side of the road under the new regulations?  Ten to fifteen minutes.  Couple that with a low conviction rate for impaired driving and to most cops the choice is a no-brainer.   

These regulations, much like BC’s Civil Forfeiture Act, were put in place to get around federal statutes that are abysmally ineffective and make no mistake, they  work.  As my close friends will attest, I enjoy the odd beverage on special occasions and since September I’ve been thankful that most of the downtown restaurants I frequent are within walking distance of a RAV Line station.  Sure, it’s an inconvenience and the seats are neither heated or made of soft leather but stacked up against license suspension, huge fines, etc. why take the chance?

The guest also suggested that the new regulations are an attempt by the provincial government to obscure the fact that they’ve closed courthouses and badly understaffed the ones they’ve left open which has led to numerous Impaired Driving cases being stayed on the grounds of unreasonable delay.  It’s the same tactic I mentioned in a previous column, Charge Approval (or not), (Oct. 17, 2008). 

While I agree with this lawyer, unlike the bar and restaurant owners, I feel no sympathy for him.  He and his brethren have used Trudeau’s Charter to bring the criminal justice system in this country to a virtual standstill so other levels of government are opting for more effective administrative options.  They’ve killed their golden goose and they’ve only themselves to blame.

The bar and restaurant industry, always big Liberal backers, recently took solace in Rich Coleman’s announcement that the regulations would be reviewed and amended if necessary.  If I were them I wouldn’t hold my breath.  I’d bet that with BC Rail hanging over this government’s head like the sword of Damocles, the only legislative changes they’re focused on right now are retroactive pardons or a prison reform bill.


Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.


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