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

Tsolum River Restoration Society AGM upcoming

Special guest speaker will be Dr. Jim Irvine, senior research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Carle Brenneman recounts Olympic experience

Comox Olympian competed in the women’s snowboard cross Friday in Pyeongchang

Logging near Langley Lake postponed until 2019, according to UBID

UBID says it has received a verbal agreement from Island Timberlands to temporarily put off activity

Early morning fire destroys Comox cabin

An early morning fire Friday engulfed a Point Holmes area cabin under… Continue reading

Hornby Island Fire Hall officially opens

Grand opening celebrations Sunday

WATCH: Vancouver Island man catches dashcam video of near head-on crash

Video shows oncoming van cross over centre line

Canucks came out hot, beat Bruins 6-1

Loui Eriksson scores twice, catapulting Vancouver to a lopsided victory over Boston

B.C. man brings dog to court as ‘best witness’

Man is defending himself on charges of uttering threats, possessing weapon for dangerous purposes

Vancouver artist’s cartoon of Florida school shooting resonates

Cartoon shows football coach, one of the victims, meeting others killed in school shootings

Trudeau family arrives in India for state visit

Seven-day visit includes meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Military seeks DNA experts to help ID missing war dead

Federal program recovers, identifies and arranges burials for Canada’s nearly 28,000 missing war dead

B.C. files new legal action against TransMountain pipeline

Province tries to uphold City of Burnaby bylaws, provoking Alberta

BCHL Today: Powell River stuns Vernon and BCHL grads lead Team Canada

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Reports of money laundering in B.C. real estate ‘troubling’: attorney general

News report alleges people connected to fentanyl trade are using B.C. real estate to launder money

Most Read