2.0 Research Plan

Data for this report was accessed from multiple existing sources, which provide national coverage of the extent of alcohol and drug-impaired driving in Canada. This includes data from Statistics Canada as well as Public Safety Canada’s annual publication on drug-impaired driving produced in support of the funding initiative. Annex 1 provides a full breakdown of research questions, indicators, data sources, and data availability.

Three projects were commissioned by the Department of Justice to contribute to the legislative review and supplement existing gaps in the data. These projects were identified and designed to be completed within the three-year review timeframe. The first of these projects was a study by Dr. Doug Beirness on the initial impact of MAS on alcohol-impaired fatally injured drivers (Beirness 2021). This study used motor vehicle crash files and toxicology results from five provinces to examine differences in driver fatalities pre- and post-implementation of MAS. While there is currently no national level data source on the use of MAS by police, Beirness (2021) identified Edmonton Police Service (EPS) as an organization that has been tracking the use of MAS by officers. The EPS data is used to assess the impact of MAS after one year of operation.

The second study was the Department of Justice’s annual public opinion survey, the NJS (Department of Justice 2021). The project included questions about alcohol- and drug-impaired driving as well as police traffic stops. The survey included an oversampling of racialized and Indigenous respondents in order to assess whether or not different groups were being disproportionately impacted by police enforcement. The project also included a small number of interviews to better understand the lived experiences of Indigenous and ethno-cultural groups in the context of police traffic stops.

The Department also commissioned a dedicated Juristat on impaired driving from the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics (CCJCSS) at Statistics Canada to cover the time period from 2015 to 2019. The article was published in July 2021 (Perreault 2021). The Juristat article covers national level police-reported and court statistics on drug and alcohol-impaired driving. In addition, an annotated bibliography of the legal and social science literature from 2018 (1 year pre-enactment) to 2021 on alcohol- and drug-impaired driving was prepared (Annex 2).

2.1 Data Limitations

There are several limitations to consider in the interpretation of the data presented in this legislative review report. The data available from the post-enactment period covers roughly one year, 2019, in the pre-COVID-19 context. In that year, there may have been varying degrees of implementation by police of the measures introduced under the Act. This is a key factor, which needs to be taken into consideration in the interpretation of the data. The second and third year post-enactment (2020-21) is heavily skewed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic affected both the ability to collect data, as well as the interpretation of the data collected in the pandemic context. COVID-19 and the ensuing public health restrictions resulted in fundamental changes to the way society functioned (e.g., both alcohol/drug use and driving behaviours), and the way that police responded to impaired driving incidents (e.g., due to physical distancing requirements). As a result, any data collected in 2020-21 will be skewed and will not provide an accurate picture of the impact of the legislative changes as compared to pre-enactment practices.

Given the data gaps identified, the limited timeframe, and the disruptions that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the data presented in this report serve as a baseline for some aspects of the Act, as well as a preliminary assessment of other elements of the impaired driving regime introduced under the Act. To gain a broader understanding of the implementation and impact of the Act, further research and data collection would be required over a longer timeframe.

2.1.1 Impacts of COVID-19 on Impaired Driving

Available data indicates that for most people there has not been a marked increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic. Stress and boredom were cited as reasons for some people who had increased consumption, but the pandemic also resulted in fewer opportunities to socialize which led a higher proportion of people to consume less. Previous users of cannabis were more likely to have increased consumption during than pandemic than users of alcohol. Also, of those who did increase their consumption, they were more likely to report abuse. Research conducted during 2020 also found the group most likely to drive impaired, young adults, were more likely to have increased their drug or alcohol consumption during the pandemic (Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction 2020; Statistics Canada 2021a).

A special survey from a sample of police services across Canada was conducted by Statistics Canada to measure the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on selected types of crimes and calls for service, including certain offences related to impaired driving (Statistics Canada 2021b). The police services that responded to this survey serve almost three quarters (71%) of the Canadian population. The survey found that impaired driving decreased during the pandemic, from March 2020 to February 2021. There were 57,115 incidents of impaired operation, down 14% from the same period a year earlier. Impaired driving causing bodily harm or death were even more impacted, with a decrease of 33% from the previous year.

From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the operation of the criminal courts has been significantly impacted with courts either temporarily closing or severely restricting their operations starting on March 13, 2020 in some locations. While there have been regional differences in how various courts have reacted to the public health emergency declarations across Canada, in the early stages of the pandemic all jurisdictions were limited to hearing only the most urgent matters, particularly those involving in-custody accused, and often by video or audio appearances. In-person criminal trials generally started resuming across the country between the end of May and October 2020; however, some court locations have experienced sporadic shut downs since then.

As the country battles subsequent waves of the pandemic, many courts are not able to operate at their pre-pandemic capacity. Once they are able to do so, courts will likely continue to struggle to recover from the backlogs that have built up. The exact impact in terms of accumulated backlogs is yet to be determined and any impacts of the enacted efficiencies cannot be assessed.