It’s still a terrible idea, but it may no longer run you the risk of having your driver’s licence suspended and car impounded
Knocking back a few brews and taking the canoe out for a paddle is still a terrible idea, but it may no longer run you the risk of having your driver’s licence suspended and car impounded.
As the federal government moves to tighten impaired driving laws ahead of the legalization of marijuana, it’s also clearing up a grey area in the Criminal Code that has seen police hand out drunk driving charges to tipsy canoeists.
Police can still lay other charges for being intoxicated in public, but impaired driving charges trigger harsh provincial penalties such as automatic driver’s licence suspensions, steep fines, demerit points, ignition unlocking devices and vehicle impoundment.
There have been numerous such charges against canoeists in Ontario, where police vigorously patrol the waterways throughout the summer and the provincial government has stated that canoes, kayaks and even inflatable rafts all count under impaired driving laws.
Police can’t charge you with impaired driving for careening down a road on your bike after a night of drinking, but they can if they catch you drunkenly drifting down a river on a raft or canoe.
In 2011, a Waterloo canoeist who’d allegedly been drinking and paddling on Belwood Lake had his driver’s licence suspended for 90 days, leaving him unable to drive his pregnant wife to the hospital for medical checkups (though he could have still paddled her there, as canoes don’t need a licence).
That same year, a 57-year-old man was charged with operating a pedal boat under the influence near Sault Ste. Marie, and also had his licence suspended.
The charges were dropped in both cases after prosecutors decided there was no reasonable chance of conviction.
Last spring, Ontario Provincial Police laid impaired driving charges against a 37-year-old man who was allegedly drunk and tipped a canoe on the Muskoka River near Bracebridge. An eight-year-old boy who was in the canoe was swept over a nearby waterfall and killed. A trial is scheduled for later this year.
Currently, the Criminal Code stipulates that road vehicles need to be motorized to qualify under impaired driving laws. But it also includes water-going “vessels,” whether they’re motorized or not. The term “vessels” is only vaguely defined, aside from an oddly specific instruction that hovercraft are included, leaving it open to police and prosecutors to decide what it means.
The end result is that police can’t charge you with impaired driving for careening down a road on your bike after a night of drinking, but they can if they catch you drunkenly drifting down a river on a raft or canoe.
The impaired driving legislation now before Parliament changes the definition of a vessel so that it “does not include a vessel that is propelled exclusively by means of muscular power.” The legislation could still be amended before it becomes law.
This isn’t sitting well with the Canadian Safe Boating Council, who testified before the House of Commons committee studying the bill on Monday.
Michael Volmer, the CSBC’s vice-chair, said this will complicate their public awareness campaigns about the danger of boating under the influence.
“Fundamentally we need the law to back up our position, and changing this definition is a very difficult concept I’m afraid from our point of view,” he told MPs.
John Gullick, chair of the CSBC, argued that the comparison with biking is wrong.
“The only person who gets hurt is the person riding the bicycle. Well, in the case of muscular or human-powered vessels, there can be far many more numbers of people in the vessel, and it also affects people around the vessel. First responders, people who are searching for people who get lost or get in trouble.”
The committee later heard from Greg Yost, a justice department counsel for criminal law matters. He said the intention of criminal impaired driving laws is to target those who are endangering the public, and that drunk canoeists who cause a death could still be charged under other criminal sections, such as negligence.
Asked by MPs whether he was aware of a drunk canoeing charge ever standing up in court, Yost said he hasn’t examined it deeply, but was unaware of any example where it did.
Source: National Post