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OPP's mandatory alcohol screening during traffic stops 'not acceptable': CCLA

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A spike in impaired driving-related collisions has caused Ontario’s provincial police to begin enforcing mandatory alcohol screening (MAS) at all traffic stops in the Greater Toronto Area -- a move one civil rights group says is ‘not acceptable.’

Speaking with CP24 on Thursday, Shakir Rahim, director of the Criminal Justice program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), said that as the new measures do not require officers to have reason to request a breathalyzer test, they are unjustifiable.

“This is an unjustified power to interlude into someone’s life without any suspicion [that] they have done something wrong,” he said. “That’s not acceptable.”

Announced on Wednesday, the OPP said the implementation of MAS follows a nearly 30 per cent increase in impaired-related driving collisions in the last year, compared to the previous five-year average, with the GTA being the highest-ranked jurisdiction for these kinds of offences.

“We’ve seen impaired drivers, with you know, not a lot of breath smells and out in the wind, in the weather, it’s hard to determine,” OPP Highway Safety Division Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said in an interview with CP24. “And now this takes away any bias, any situations, we’re just going to be testing everybody.”

Schmidt said that if drivers refuse to provide a breath sample, they will be criminally charged.

“If you don’t provide a breath sample, that’s a bad situation as well. You will be charged criminally with refusing, and that is a criminal charge, like failing [a breathalyzer is a criminal charge].”

Prior to these measures, officers only requested alcohol testing when they had reason to suspect a driver was under the influence. While Schmidt said that these provisions that are already in place will not change, people getting stopped for other reasons will have to undergo a breathalyzer test.

“Maybe that’s the reason we’ve wanted to get this education awareness out, people are confused,” he said. “They get stopped for having a cellphone, stopped for speeding, and now they’re asked to provide a breath sample.”

While the measure is sparking some backlash, criminal defence lawyer Lydia Riva says MAS has been part of the law since five years ago so police are legally allowed to do it.

“This has been the law since 2018, since then, police have been able to do roadside breath demand without reasonable suspicion of drunk driving, if the officer has in their possession an approved screening device and they’ve stopped the person for a lawful purpose,” Riva said to CP24.

A news release by the OPP said that MAS are used and recognized throughout the world and have proven results.

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