More than 1,100 B.C. drivers who were penalized for drunk driving in the weeks before the province’s impaired driving law was deemed unconstitutional are having some of their penalties overturned, the Times Colonist has learned.
At least 1,137 drivers are having their requirements to attend driver education classes and install ignition interlock systems cancelled by the government, with as many as 400 people potentially eligible for refunds from the province, the Justice Ministry confirmed Thursday.
Most affected drivers should have received letters already, the government said. The cases date back to three weeks in November 2011, just before the B.C. Supreme Court struck down part of the impaired driving law.
The overturned penalties come after a review of 1,200 drunk driving cases by the government’s Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.
The government was facing legal challenges on some of those cases, on the grounds that the penalties were unconstitutional at the time. “There were some very strong arguments, so it made us take a look at the cases,” said Stephanie Melvin, deputy superintendent of motor vehicles.
“The best way to say it, is based on the arguments that we received, we determined it wasn’t fair to maintain that referral to the remedial programs.”
Overturned penalties apply only to driver education and ignition interlock programs, which are considered “discretionary” penalties by the government. Not affected are police-issued immediate roadside prohibitions, such as vehicle impoundments, licence suspensions, fines, storage and towing fees.
Roadside penalties, licence suspensions and impoundments were upheld as valid by the court, Melvin said.
The government amended the law in 2012 to address deficiencies in the appeals process identified by the court.
An undisclosed number of the 1,200 drivers also had their licences cancelled for refusing to follow through with driver education and ignition interlock penalties. Melvin said those licences will be reinstated.
The government intends to decide soon on how much it will reimburse the approximately 400 drivers who completed, or are part- way through, their education and interlock programs, Melvin said.
The responsible driver program, which runs eight to 16 hours over three months, costs almost $1,000. Penalized drivers must pay the fee.
An ignition interlock system — consisting of a breathalyzer device that disables a vehicle if alcohol is detected — costs about $1,700.
Stroh Health Care, a Delta-based private company, has the exclusive contract to administer driver education programs. Stroh has been paid more than $10 million since 2009 to run impaired driver alcohol education and counselling sessions. Its contract was renewed without public notice in June 2012, and now runs until 2015.
Guardian Interlock Service has the government contract for ignition interlocks. Drivers pay Guardian directly; the company has paid the B.C. government $2.4 million in administrative fees since 2009.
More than 35,000 people have been penalized since the drunk driving law went into effect in September 2010. Justice Minister Shirley Bond has said, despite the review, her government is not backing away from aggressive impaired driving sanctions because they are saving lives.
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