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

Tsunami warning issued for coastal British Columbia

Warning issued following 8.0 earthquake off Kodiak, AK

Work continuing on new Kelowna visitor centre

Crews working through winter on downtown lakeshore site to have building ready for this summer

Pizza delivery car stolen during Kelowna delivery

While delivering a late night pizza, man has car stolen, then runs to recover it

Kelowna’s Serwa named to Olympic team

Kelsey Serwa is one of eight Canadian ski cross athletes headed to PyeongChang

Vernon Search & Rescue find lost snowmobiler

Male, 19, went missing in Hunter’s Range area near Enderby

Testing the Google Arts & Culture app

Going face to face with art

VIDEO: Fuel truck and train collide in B.C. causing massive fire

More emergency crews are still arriving on scene of a massive fire at the Port Coquitlam rail yard.

Back to work: U.S. government shutdown ends after Democrats relent

Short-term spending measure means both sides could see another shutdown stalemate in three weeks

Man lives despite malfunctioning defibrillator at B.C. arena

A middle-aged man went into cardiac arrest after at game at Pitt Meadows Arena last Wednesday.

Cause of Northern B.C. seaplane crash released

TSB releases report on seaplane crash during a water landing in 2016 near First Nations community

Vancouver police crack down on pop-up pot vendors

Officers raided merchants’ tables on Robson Square late Sunday

Angels at The Mule

Penticton nightclub introduces angel shots for safety

Dryer explosion at Teck Elkview Operations

Locals report hearing loud bang

Bell Media, NFL take appeal over Super Bowl ad rules to top court

At issue is a ban on substituting American ads with Canadian ones during the game’s broadcast

Most Read