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Understanding drinking and driving reforms: a profile of Ontario statistics
  1. B Carroll,
  2. R Solomon
  1. University of Western Ontario, Faculty of Law, London, Ontario N6A 3K7, Canada
  1. Correspondence to:
 R Solomon, National Director of Legal Policy, MADD Canada
 (e-mail: rsolomon{at}

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Drinking and driving has been the subject of considerable public concern and legislative attention in many countries in recent years. In Canada, the federal criminal laws and provincial traffic acts have been significantly amended since the mid-1980s: police investigatory powers have been broadened, new federal crimes and provincial offences have been enacted, and more onerous penalties and administrative sanctions have been introduced.

The most recent cycle of Canadian legislative reform has focused on increasing sanctions, particularly for repeat offenders. Federal Criminal Code amendments in 19991 increased the minimum fines and driving prohibitions for the three most common offences—impaired driving, driving with a blood alcohol level (BAL) above 0.08%, and failing to provide breath or blood samples. Significant changes have also occurred at the provincial level. For example, Ontario introduced legislation which, when fully implemented, will impose indefinite licence suspensions on those convicted of three federal drinking and driving offences within 10 years,2 and British Columbia has followed suit.3 Both the federal and provincial governments have widely publicized their “get tough” legislation.4,5

However, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada and other organizations have questioned whether these initiatives will have a significant impact. Stiffer penalties are unlikely to have much effect if the police do not have sufficient resources to apprehend and charge drinking drivers,6,7 or if prosecutors are so overburdened that they can only act in the most serious and blatant cases.8

We had hoped that a review of Ontario's drinking and driving statistics would shed some light on enforcement, prosecutorial and sentencing practices, and on the likely impact of the new “get tough” legislation. However, it was surprisingly difficult to obtain much information from the provincial government. Although Ontario published statistics on its federal drinking and driving convictions, it did not publish …

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  • * Depending on the offence and how it is prosecuted, the accused may have a choice to be tried in the Ontario Court (General Division), which is a higher court than the Provincial Division. However, the rules governing jurisdiction are very complex. The names of the Ontario Court (Provincial Division) and (General Division) have since been changed to the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice, respectively. In this paper we refer to these courts by the names that applied in 1996–97.

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