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

B.C. freestyle skier wins gold

Cassie Sharpe of Comox shines in the halfpipe

Annual Heritage Day celebration highlights Terrace history, culture

Over 30 vendors displayed various vintage and historic items from the city’s past on Feb.17 in the Sportsplex Banquet Room.

Terrace River Kings win playoffs

Defeating Williams Lake Stampeders, the team now heads to the Coy Cup for the fourth year in a row

First annual Valentines Day Memorial Walk to honor missing and murdered Indigenous people held in Terrace

Mayor Carol Leclerc and RCMP Cst. Angela Rabut joined members of the Radek family and walkers on Feb. 14 from the Chill Soda Shop on Highway 16 to the Tempo Gas Station.

Most Highway 16 closures for avalanches in years after multiple dumps of snow

Highway 16 has had four closures between Terrace and Prince Rupert due to 35 mile avalanche area

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Virtue and Moir end ice dance careers with Olympic gold

Virtue and Moir’s gold medal win at the Olympics makes them the world’s most decorated figure skaters

Canadians find living in small spaces teaches creativity

Canadian families choosing to live in small spaces to bring closeness to children

SAR suspends search for missing man at Sun Peaks

RCMP will continue to search for a missing man near Kamloops but SAR has suspended their role

Lottery will help save children’s lives

Each ticket gets you a chance to win a lot of money, while helping a lot of kids

B.C. RCMP officer officially cleared in car wash shooting incident

A report found the Salmon Arm officer fired 14 bullets at the man’s truck

Interest in Canadian Armed Forces remains high

Canada seeks about 5,000 recruits each year for its regular forces of about 68,000

Rules reviewed to keep drug money out of B.C. real estate

Investigator looking at loans as well as casinos, David Eby says

Most Read