RCMP too hasty in drunk driving arrest, Yukon judge rules

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A Whitehorse man has been acquitted of an impaired driving charge, after a Yukon Territorial Court judge ruled his Charter rights were violated by the RCMP.

In a decision issued Nov. 17, Chief Judge Karen Ruddy ruled Brayden Douglas Alexander Pye was "arbitrarily detained" by police, breaching Section 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

According to court documents, Pye was charged after a "serious" vehicle collision on Aug. 31, 2016. Pye's vehicle slammed into a parked truck, sending it about 18 metres down the street and knocking off the truck's canopy.

RCMP Cst. Brian Harding was the responding officer. He noted Pye seemed to be struggling with his balance and was slurring his words. Harding told court he could smell alcohol coming from Pye's breath.

Harding said he concluded that Pye was under the influence of alcohol and had been driving while impaired. Harding alerted the dispatch centre. The whole interaction took "less than 31 seconds," Judge Ruddy noted.

Defence counsel Joni Ellerton questioned the reliability of the quickly-drawn conclusion which led to Pye's arrest. Relying on previous case law, she argued Harding couldn't have developed an "objectively reasonable" opinion in such a short period of time.

'Perfunctory at best'

Ruddy agreed. She also noted Harding had less than three years of experience with the RCMP, and wrote: "I have serious concerns that his observations were no more than perfunctory at best."

Ruddy also noted that the smell of alcohol does not prove impairment, and that Pye's slurred speech and apparent imbalance may have been due to the collision.

"With the fact that many of [Harding's] observations could have been equally explained by the fact Mr. Pye had just been in an accident, one would expect more care taken in assessing Mr. Pye's condition, before forming a belief, rather than a suspicion, that his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol," she wrote.   

Ruddy had issues with the reliability of Harding's observations. She ruled there were not reasonable grounds for arrest. All evidence drawn from observations made after the arrest were excluded from the Crown's case.

The remaining evidence did not prove Pye was driving while impaired, and he was acquitted of the charge.

Ruddy also took care to note that even if she hadn't excluded the evidence from after the arrest, she still would have concluded the Crown did not prove its case.