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In the name of God, what’s the matter with us?

Are we really going to approve, if only by our silence,  the right of the police to try, convict and sentence citizens without the nuisance of allowing a person to have their case independently tried by an impartial judge?

In a classic case of Woolmington v DPP [1935] AC 462 Lord Sankey said this

“No matter what the charge or where the trial, the principle that the prosecution must prove the guilt of the prisoner is part of the common law of England and no attempt to whittle it down can be entertained”.

It’s said that the safety of the community is at stake. On that subject Benjamin Franklin said

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.

Let’s look at the Charter of Rights and freedoms

7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

11. Any person charged with an offence has the right

(d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal;

The opening section does provide an exception

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. (emphasis mine).

Clearly this exception is designed for wartime or insurrections. That it has been used to justify roadblocks is not an argument for its extension.

My argument is not for light penalties for those who break the law. I’m against driving under the influence of alcohol or any drug and against excessive speed. I’m not concerned here with ICBC statistics indicating which accidents are caused by what. What I do say is that we are involved in demeaning one of the oldest and most sacred freedoms. In my view that is wrong in and of itself. The right to the presumption of innocence is something for which we have literally sacrificed unimaginable quantities of blood and lives, But I go further – what does this lead to?

I rather hate to mention this because it’s in the area of the practical rather than principle but given the record of police forces and civil liberties in the province and country are we really going to trust our liberties and property to the whim of a cop on the beat?

Still on the question of the practical, what proof is there that those who flout the present laws will be deterred from so doing by these laws?

Still, on this matter of principle, this law, with respect to drinking, encourages drivers to lie to police even more than now. Taking my own case, I’m 5’11” and weigh 205 pounds. My habit is to have two glasses of wine over a dinner of 1½-2 hours. If asked by a policeman if I’ve been drinking the incentive is for me to lie. If I tell the truth the policeman will say that he has reasonable and probable grounds to detain even though I may show no signs of impairment. If I tell the truth I’m at the mercy of a person who is my accuser, my judge, and the enforcer of that judgment. In fact, Wendy and I don’t drink and drive at all but use the good service of Transit from Lions Bay to Horseshoe Bay. It has meant, however, that we no longer dine at The Red Lion in Dundarave because there is no practical bus service to use.

Is it not in the interests of fair play then, that the police park near well known restaurants, pubs and other watering holes  and nail patrons as they get into their cars? If not, why not? If this law is to make roads safer, surely it’s better to do your enforcement before the voyage begins! (The intended law breaker does not have to be driving but merely in the care custody and control of the vehicle.)

My greater concern is one of principle. Next to freedom of speech, I regard the right to be presumed innocent is our greatest protection against arbitrary actions against citizens. If that principle is compromised in the case of driving offences, what’s next? (In that regard it’s amazing to me that this province arose as one against enforcement by camera, where you had time and the right to dispute the charge yet we are silent when the police can decide your guilt or innocence here and now!)

We have reached a very serious position as regards freedom in this part of the world. Video cameras “for our safety” are everywhere. We have a long form census that demands, under penalty, that we describe people living with us and now we dispense “justice” without a hearing. We have recently had a US president in favour of torturing suspects. The government of Great Britain now has access to 80% of emails sent.

In BC our Attorney General wants an 82 year old lady sent to jail for life because she protests things.

But, it’s said, the roads will be safer, tragic deaths and injuries will be fewer and justice will be done even thought it might not look that way.

It could and no doubt will be argued that if we diminished the law against searches we can reduce burglaries.

Indeed, I will concede for the sake of argument that limiting our freedoms will make us all safer. Russians felt safer under communism – unless you were a political activist, of course.

What our freedoms amount to is a premium paid for those freedoms. While we don’t like it in many cases, freedom means that guilty people will go free to protect the freedoms of us all.

Evidently this government prefers not to pay this premium and most British Columbians are prepared to go along.

We must surely ask ourselves if this is a not so slow erosion of our liberties and that hereafter we will pay that premium for freedom that I mentioned a moment ago.

Is it the beginning of a slide down the slippery slope to where governments can behave as they wish without having to face the discomforts of publicly expressed dissent?

10 Responses to “Drinking, driving and civil liberties”

  1. Trailblazer says:

    Left to their own ends the Police have already become Judge, Jury & executioner!!
    What’s new.

    Sad though.

  2. e.a.f. says:

    People love to take the easy way out. Everyone talks about the evils of drinking and driving, the government wants to look proactive on something, and the government needs money.
    In my opinion, the changes to “drinking and driving laws” has more to do with money than anything else. The premier professes these new “regulations” to be making the roads safer. If the premier really cared about making the B.C. safer, he might ensure the hospitals were cleaner.
    The new regulations regarding speeding and “drinking and driving” collect a great deal of money. As I understand it some of these monies are shared with local governments. How nice to be able to send money to local governments, without having to take it out of the provincial coffers.
    I have not seen much wrong with a 24 hour road side suspension, but these new regulations are a tad extreme.
    I agree they do appear to be in conflict with such things as the Canadian constitution.
    I suspect the new game rules for drinking and driving will wind up in the Supreme court of Canada. We just need to wait until some one with deep pockets gets “fined” or have their license suspended by a police officer.

  3. Kim says:

    Yes, I agree. And speaking of Grandmothers and protest, one must not fail to mention Harriet Nahani, who died of pneumonia in a BC prison for the same “crime”. What next, shall we watch a takedown of the Raging Grannies, by police with tazers, followed by incarceration via Mental Health Act?

  4. Jeff Taylor says:

    This is only the beginning of the attack on civil rights of we, the people.

  5. jartann says:

    It is rare any more that I might agree 100% with Rafe Mair on an issue, but on this one I do. I don’t drink at all, but allowing the police, or other government officials, this kind of power is a soft tyranny at best. Those who support this will defend it by arguing that it is necessary for administrative efficiency and cost control. In some countries this is achieved by not bothering with trials, or the courts, and putting people behind bars whenever it suits them. In others they simply kill transgressors without benefit of trial or hearing.

    As Rafe writes, if the police want to be serious about this, just park in the vicinity of pubs and the like on a rotating basis, and their job would be easier anyway. Drinkers would get the message and this would be a more effective deterrent.

  6. Mr Krauss says:

    Lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05 to stop people from dying from drunk driving, is like lowering the speed limit from 50km to 30km to stop speeding accidents, accidents dont happen between the speeds of 0km and 50km IT’S JOKE!, people who get in drunk driving accidents average .15 blood alcohol level. None of the death caused by drunk drivers , was caused by someone who had one drink.. Just another scam to get us closer to accepting a Police State.

  7. Donna says:

    Campbell was fortunate, he didn’t kill someone, driving when he was drunk. MlA Thornthwaite,could have also, have caused an accident. However, Campbell said, Thornthwaite should not resign, because, he didn’t want to resign. In other words, it’s ok to drink and drive, if you don’t kill anyone. If you are going out, and going to drink, take a dammed cab. I worked in a hospital, where there were bodies, that had to be scraped into garbage bags. They were hit by a drunk driver. At a dinner out, a couple of glasses of wine, is fine. A responsible person, will stick to that. If you end up having more to drink, cab home.

  8. Jeff says:

    First I want to tell you that I have lost two people to drunk driving. My wife in 1986 and my best friend in 2001. Both times the drivers B.A.L. was well over .08 (Both over twice the legal limit). I have never had a problem with people that have one maybe two drinks with dinner or a guy stopping at the pub for the same amount on the way home from work, but that is it! I have lost loved ones to drunk driving. A person who blows .05 is not a drunk driver. I haven’t heard of a person causing death or injury with a B.A.L. of .05-.07 and “being at fault”. It’s always over that? I think they should allow ICBC to sponsor roadblocks, lots of them. (Why did the ICBC sponsored road blocks stop?) Put the man power into getting the drunks. Keep the new laws for blowing .08 and over. I like them. At any cost we need to keep the right to a day in court and to be proven quilty.

  9. Rosalyn Winther says:

    The new drinking and driving rules in BC leave us at the mercy of individual police officers. Knowing that many police illegally arrested over 1000 bystanders and peaceful protesters at the G20 in Toronto this year, I do not have much faith in a police force that has now been given immeasurable powers not fitting of its rank. As a female, if I consume two glasses of wine with dinner, I am likely to be over the 0.05 limit. I could be fined and my car impounded. And where where does the fine money go?

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