Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Breathalyzer plan hasty

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POLICE officials who want to simplify the process for dealing with impaired drivers argue their case well, but that doesn't mean such streamlining is necessarily a good idea. In fact, it could end up being more of a headache for police as well as potentially compromise the rights of people charged with drunk driving.

Canada's police chiefs met recently in Charlottetown and among the issues identified as a key concern was the lengthy procedure required when dealing with impaired driving cases.

According to Charlottetown Police Chief Paul Smith and RCMP Supt. Randy Robar, the drill involved in arresting someone and applying a breathalyzer needs to be amended so that it's less time-consuming. An arresting officer can spend up to two hours processing a person charged with impaired driving because it involves several hurdles, including calling for a second officer to apply a breathalyzer test.

Simplifying the process would reduce the paperwork and free up police officers more quickly so they can tend to other duties, the chiefs say.

In times of economic restraint, it makes sense for our police agencies to cut costs where they can so they can make the best use of their resources. But they should proceed cautiously in doing this.

A thorough investigative process for dealing with impaired driving charges is essential because it ensures the rights of an accused person are observed and protected throughout the arresting procedure.

This is an essential principle of our justice system, and speeding up this process for the sake of administrative purposes could jeopardize this.

A shortcut process could also backfire on the police. The current process, lengthy though it may be with its time-consuming paperwork, affords police the time to carry out a thorough arrest procedure, complete with all the checks and balances.

Would a simpler or shorter process compromise this?

It stands to reason that a thorough arrest procedure, complete with time-consuming paperwork, is one that would most effectively withstand any scrutiny or challenge should any arise.

Obviously, police administrators have to find ways to deliver services as efficiently as possible. In their quest to simplify their arrest procedure for impaired driving cases, they must be sure they don't also weaken it. In the end, that would serve no one.

In an interview with this newspaper at the police chiefs meeting last week, Robar conceded that any attempts to change the process would likely entail a lot of consultation before any amendments were passed.

That's reassuring.

Such amendments could have serious implications for the way impaired driving charges are dealt with by the police. In light of this, all stakeholders should have a say in any proposed changes.

--The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2009 A10

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