On April 9, 2018 the new Alberta Administrative License Suspension law came into effect. This affects people who the police suspect have committed an impaired driving-related offence (such as impaired driving, driving with a blood alcohol content over 0.08, or refusing to provide a sample to a police officer).
What prompted this change to the law?
Before the April 2018 changes, drivers had their license suspended indefinitely upon being charged with impaired driving. This “administrative license suspension” under the Alberta Traffic Safety Act lasted until their criminal charge was dealt with. This meant that people who exercised their right to have a trial had to go without their license for entire period before their trial date (which could be many months into the future).
In May 2017 the Alberta Court of Appeal found that this indefinite license suspension was unconstitutional. It subjected people to punitive sanctions upon the “mere charging of an offence, without regard to the presumption of innocence. The Court of Appeal declared Alberta’s law unconstitutional but gave the government one year to fix the legislation before the law would become non-operational. These new laws are the Alberta Government’s response the to the Court of Appeal’s decision.
How does the new legislation change the administrative suspension regime?
Instead of an indefinite administrative license suspension, a person who is charged after April 9, 2018 is now subject to a two-phase suspension regime:
1. An absolute 90-day driving prohibition period, during which the person cannot drive under any circumstances; and
2. An additional 1-year driving suspension from the date of the charge. However, during this second stage, a person may be able to drive on a restricted license if they participate in the Ignition
Interlock program for the 1-year period. If the person does not participate in the Administrative Interlock program, they are suspended from driving for a further 12 months after the initial 90-day period, for a total suspension of 15 months.
Technically speaking, the “trigger” for the administrative license suspension has also changed – instead of the suspension being the result of a charge under the Criminal Code, the trigger is now the police officer’s belief that an individual has engaged in certain impaired driving behaviours. In practise, however, the “reasonable grounds” standard is the same threshold for a police officer to charge someone with a criminal offence. So there is not much practical difference in the pre-requisite for the administrative license suspension.
What about people who were charged with an impaired driving-related offence before April 9th?
If a person was charged before the changes and has already served 90 days of an administrative suspension under the old rules, they would be immediately eligible to apply for the Ignition Interlock program.
If a person was charged before the changes and has served less than 90 days on the suspension, they will be eligible to apply after they have served 90 days of the suspension.
Admission into the Interlock program is not automatic and a person must apply to the Transportation Safety Board in order to see if they are eligible.
Are there any exemptions from the administrative suspension?
It is not possible for a person to get an exemption from the Administrative Suspension law.
While not an exemption, an individual still has a right to appeal the administrative license suspension under section 39 of the Traffic Safety Act. There are strict timelines for this kind of appeal – it must be filed within 30 days. The grounds for an appeal are legally very strict, and employment or financial hardship is not a reason that the Board can take into consideration on an appeal.
What happens with the administrative suspension if a person pleads guilty or is convicted of an impaired-driving related offence after a trial?
This new provincial law does not change the federal Criminal Code provisions that deal with driving suspensions after a person has been found guilty. If a person is convicted of an impaired driving offence, they are still subject to a mandatory driving prohibition under the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code states that the minimum driving prohibition is for one year from the date of conviction (and could be longer for repeat offenders or if the judge decides a longer prohibition is appropriate in the circumstances of the case).
The new changes to Alberta’s laws do not affect this criminal driving suspension. Nor does it change the Mandatory Ignition Interlock program that the Alberta government requires individuals to participate in to get their licence back after a Criminal Code conviction.
Individuals who were on Administrative Ignition Interlock as part of the 1-year Administrative License Suspension, and are later found guilty will, at minimum, have to serve another three-month absolute driving prohibition from the date of their conviction (this period could be longer for more serious cases). They could choose to have the interlock device removed from their vehicle and re-installed later, or continue to pay the rental fees but be unable to drive. Either way, a person would have to apply and be accepted into the Mandatory Ignition Interlock program after the three-month period, and complete all of the conditions of that program before regaining any driving privileges.
What about people who are found not guilty after a trial?
The administrative suspension is no longer tied to criminal charges, so it does not end with an acquittal. This means that if a person is found not guilty of an impaired driving offence at a trial, they will still have to serve the time remaining on their 15-month administrative suspension. It is very likely that there will be additional court challenges to this aspect of the new law.
Where can I get more information?
The Alberta Government provides information on the Interlock Program.
The laws surrounding impaired driving, and the related consequences to your licence, are technical, complex, and continually evolving. The information on this site is not intended to be legal advice, and is not a substitute for speaking with a legal professional. If you are facing an impaired driving charge or an administrative suspension, contact a criminal lawyer.
Tania Shapka, Associate DDSG Criminal Law