Saskatchewan’s justice minister isn’t quite ready to endorse a proposed change to federal drunk driving laws.
This week saw reports emerge of a letter sent by federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to her provincial counterparts, suggesting a decrease of the criminal blood/alcohol level for drivers to .05.
While several provinces, including Saskatchewan, have applied penalties for drivers with lower blood/alcohol levels, only drivers registering at .08 or above face criminal charges.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Gordon Wyant addressed the issue on Gormley Wednesday.
As the province with the country’s worst drunk driving rates, Wyant said the Government of Saskatchewan was naturally in favour of any move that would bring the numbers down.
However, he said he wanted a chance to analyze the potential impact of new administrative penalties brought in this year at the provincial level, including three-day impounds for vehicles where a driver is found to have a blood/alcohol level over .04.
“We’re quite concerned about how reducing (the federal drunk driving level) to .05 will affect our administrative sanctions that we’ve put in in Saskatchewan,” he said.
Wyant noted Saskatchewan’s measures were modelled after similar policies in British Columbia, which saw a significant drop in impaired driving once it started imposing roadside license suspensions and impounding vehicles.
He said one of the biggest advantages of using an administrative approach, rather than deferring to criminal charges, was the penalties have been shown to reduce drunk driving without burdening the courts.
“If we go to .05 … we’re going to have an influx of impaired driving charges,” he said. “That’s going to have a significant impact on our justice system.”
Wyant said he wasn’t slamming the door on lending his support to toughening the federal drunk driving law, but wanted to have more consultation and a cautious approach to the issue.
He added he’s encouraged by the tone of Wilson-Raybould’s letter.
“I think she wants to have a dialogue,” he said. “She’s made that pretty clear.”
Wyant said he expected the issue to be on the agenda at a meeting of provincial, federal and territorial justice ministers in September.