1.0 Executive Summary
In 2018, Parliament enacted former Bill C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, S.C. 2018, c. 21 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”) to create new and stronger laws to combat impaired driving.
The Act introduced a robust drug-impaired driving regime to coincide with the legalization of cannabis, as well as reformed the Criminal Code alcohol-impaired driving regime to create a new, modern, simplified and more coherent system to better deter, detect, and prosecute impaired drivers. The Act was introduced with an ultimate objective of reducing deaths and injuries caused by impaired drivers on Canadian roads. The Act came into force in two stages: the drug-impaired driving amendments came into force on Royal Assent on June 21, 2018 and the more comprehensive reform which was a complete repeal and replacement of the transportation regime came into force on December 18, 2018.
The Act requires the Minister of Justice to undertake a comprehensive review of the implementation and operation of the provisions enacted and table a report in both Houses of Parliament.. The review must also include an evaluation of whether the implementation and operation of the Act has resulted in differential treatment of any particular group based on a prohibited ground of discrimination.
In support of the legislative changes, in 2017 the Government also announced $161 million in federal funding to support the new drug-impaired driving regime (the funding initiative). The funding initiative was targeted towards training for frontline officers to detect drug-impaired drivers, building law enforcement capacity, providing access to the newly approved drug screening equipment (ADSE), as well as policy, research, and public awareness activities around drug-impaired driving.
This report draws from multiple existing data sources, which provides national coverage of the extent of alcohol and drug-impaired driving. The report also includes findings from research projects commissioned by the Department of Justice in 2020 to support the legislative review. Data presented in this report cover both the period prior to the coming into force of the Act (2016-2018), as well as post coming into force (2019-2021). The report uses all available data, although the data does not assess every individual amendment. Therefore, 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.
The data presented in this report support the following high-level conclusions:
Road safety and self-reported behaviour and awareness data
- The available data shows that impaired driving traffic fatalities decreased in 2019, the first year following the Act’s coming into force.
- Preliminary data shows that mandatory alcohol screening (MAS) is an efficient and effective means of tackling alcohol-impaired driving.
- There have been substantial reductions in the prevalence of alcohol use by drivers over the past twenty years; however, since data on cannabis use among drivers has become available, there has been an increase in the percentage of drivers who tested positive for cannabis.
- Recent results from a national drug-impaired driving study suggest that cannabis use is an emerging problem in Canada that may become more prevalent than alcohol.
- The data indicated there was low public awareness of changes related to impaired driving introduced under the Act.
Criminal justice system
- There was an increase in police-reported rates of alcohol- and drug-impaired driving in the first year after the Act’s implementation.
- The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a decline in impaired driving incidents, including those causing bodily harm and death. Data shows there was not a marked increase in alcohol and drug consumption during the pandemic among people who had previously consumed alcohol or drugs. Though previous users of cannabis were more likely to have increased consumption during the pandemic than users of alcohol.
- Available evidence points to the complexity of the regime around drug-impaired driving; drug-impaired driving incidents rarely led to charges under new blood drug concentration (BDC) limits; it took longer for police to complete drug-impaired driving investigations and these incidents were less likely to end in charges; drug-impaired driving in the courts took twice as long as alcohol cases and were less likely to result in guilty findings.
- The drug-impaired driving funding initiative has made significant progress in meeting its objectives to build law enforcement capacity to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug-impaired driving, and provide access to Approved Drug Screening Equipment (ADSE).
- Some Indigenous peoples and racialized Canadians are more likely to have concerns about being charged with an alcohol- or drug-impaired driving offence, despite having similar or lower rates of self-reported impaired driving behaviour.
- Evidence from the 2021 National Justice Survey (NJS) suggests that Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted by police traffic stops in general, and there is general perception among some Indigenous and racialized people of differential treatment and perceived risk in interactions with police. Efforts currently underway to improve police-reported data collection will contribute to further assessment of the impact of these, and other legislative changes on these groups.
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