It is said if you want someone to do something, first tell them they can't do it. It appears the Government of Alberta is hoping the reverse is also true.
In an attempt to reduce incidents of driving under the influence, Alberta is moving toward decriminalization of drunk driving.
Under legislation now before the Alberta legislature, police officers will be given wide discretion to lay or not lay criminal charges against a person caught driving under the influence. If the officer decides not to lay a criminal charge, administrative sanctions will automatically kick in. These include impounding the vehicle, a heavy fine, and license suspension for a minimum period of three months.
Part of the rational behind the legislation is to clear up a backlog in the provincial courts and allow more important cases to be heard more quickly. Currently DUI cases account for lust under half of all cases before the courts in the province.
The administrative sanctions have been in place for some time, but only kicked in after a criminal conviction. Now they will be enforced in place of the conviction.
The bill has both its supporters and its opponents. MADD Alberta is behind the bill, suggesting that the imposition of sanctions without the threat of a criminal record will still be sufficient deterrent.
On the other side, many legal authorities say the bill gives too much power to police officers and does not provide sufficient recourse to appeal the roadside decision. A police officer should not have the authority to charge, convict and sentence all without a trial, the lawyers insist.
The effort to clear up a backlog in the courts is laudable, but decriminalizing such a serious offence as driving while impaired is not the way to do it.
At a time when many provinces are reducing the legal BAC limited and increasing fines for DUI convictions, Alberta is clearly moving in the wrong direction.
Frank Likely is a retired Anglican minister and past president of the Springhill and Area Chamber of Commerce.