Drink/driving law will be enforced in Port: RCMP

  • Feb. 20, 2008 7:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret–RCMP will continue to enforce drinking and driving laws in Port Clements because Port, like other towns on the island, has a problem with drinking drivers, Sgt. Jim Vardy told council Monday night (Feb. 18). “This is just ongoing enforcement,” he said. “Quite frankly, we checked a few vehicles and found maybe there was a problem down here.” Over one recent three-week period, he said, police laid two impaired charges and issued four 24-hour driving suspensions, all in the Port Clements area. Part of the reason for the increase may be that the Masset detachment is now fully staffed with nine members, he said. Council invited Sgt. Vardy to Monday’s meeting after discussing the rash of 24-hour suspensions earlier this month. Council members were concerned that police might have started a new “zero tolerance” approach, with drivers subject to suspensions if they had drunk any alcohol whatsoever. They were also concerned about the RCMP’s policy of issuing a 24-hour suspension, then having the vehicle towed to Masset and impounded. The towing fee to Masset is $200 and it is somewhat inconvenient for Port residents to retrieve their vehicles because Masset is 48 kilometres away. But Sgt. Vardy said there is no new program and no “zero tolerance” initiative, simply enforcement of existing laws that prohibit impaired driving. He and Const. Chad Chamberlain showed council the roadside screening device which police use to determine whether drivers are impaired or not. Drivers can blow a pass, warn or fail. A warn or fail results in a 24-hour suspension. In fact, a fail reading indicates that the driver is likely to fail a breathalyzer test, which is a more exact reading of alcohol levels. A driver who fails a breathalyzer test can face an impaired driving charge under the criminal code, which is much more serious than a 24-hour suspension. If convicted, the driver could lose his or her licence for at least a year. At least one of the Port residents who received a 24-hour suspension failed the roadside screening test and could have ended up with an impaired charge, Sgt. Vardy said, but officers used their discretion to issue a suspension instead. Another Port resident received a suspension because she was smoking marijuana while driving. Sgt. Vardy told the Observer that drivers who don’t think the reading on the roadside screening device is accurate are welcome to ask for a breathalyzer test instead on the machine in Masset. On the subject of the vehicle tows, Sgt. Vardy said legislation allows the police officer to have the vehicle towed if the driver has been given a 24-hour suspension, especially if the officer believes the person is likely to drive again. However, the tow is not required. “I don’t think any of us deny the importance of getting impaired drivers off the road,” mayor Cory Delves said. “But with many of the people here being on strike the last three months, the $200 charge is a lot.” Mr. Delves asked if there was any way that Port could set up a secure lot for impounded vehicles, which would reduce the towing fee and make it less of a challenge for people to get their cars back. “I hear you,” Sgt. Vardy responded. He said the RCMP has tried to find a local person with a tow truck who could do the job, but so far has not been successful. Meanwhile, Sgt. Vardy said the crime rate in Port Clements dropped significantly in 2007. Last year, RCMP received 28 calls from Port for criminal code offences, compared to 35 calls in 2006.