The Problem with Boozy Blood: Drunk Driving Laws in Canada

On September 27th, 2015 Marco Muzzo, the 29 year old son of one of Canada’s wealthiest families and heir to a billion dollar estate killed four people in a drunk driving accident in Vaughan, Ontario. The victims were Daniel Neville-Lake, age 9, Harrison, age 5, Milly, age 2, and their 65 year old grandfather, Gary Neville.

At the time Muzzo was drunk and returning home from a family weekend partying in Miami, Florida. He was driving an SUV at 85 km/h when he slammed into a minivan killing all inside.

Muzzo pled guilty to all charges. The Crown asked that Muzzo be sentenced to between ten and twelve years for his crime, something unlikely to happen given his family’s wealth and prestige. Muzzo will be sentenced on March 29, 2016.

But this isn’t about the difference between the rich and poor in Canada’s criminal justice system. It’s not about how whites and non-whites are treated differently by a system that claims to be unbiased. We know the criminal justice system treats the white and wealthy better.

This article is about drunk driving.

Canada’s drunk driving laws fall under the Canadian Criminal Code which sets out the rules defining criminal behavior and its penalties across Canada. According to article 253, anyone operating a motor vehicle while their ability to operate it is impaired by drugs or alcohol is committing an offense.

If it’s a first offense and no one was hurt, the sentence is a fine of no less than a thousand dollars. For a second offense in which no one was harmed, the punishment is no less than thirty days in prison. For every subsequent offense, the penalty is a minimum of a hundred and twenty days in jail. The maximum sentences in these cases can range between eighteen months and five years in prison.

Marco Muzzo (right) leaves the courthouse (image: Canadian Press)
Marco Muzzo (right) leaves the courthouse (image: Canadian Press)

The sentence for drunk driving is far greater if someone other than the driver is hurt. If your drunk driving results in bodily harm to another person, you’re looking at a sentence of up to ten years imprisonment. If your blood alcohol level is higher than the legal limit and the accident resulted in bodily harm to another person, you could also be looking at a maximum sentence of ten years.

If your drunk driving resulted in the death of another person you’re looking at life in prison. The same applies if your blood alcohol level was above the legal limit when the accident killing the other person occurred.

If you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict and a medical report says you’re in need of rehab, the law allows for some mercy from the courts, which can discharge a person on the condition that they undergo treatment for the addiction.

If you’re operating a motor vehicle – in motion or not – and you’ve got more than eighty milligrams of alcohol in your system for every hundred milliliters of blood, you’re considered to be above the legal limit. The authorities will figure this out through a breathalyzer test and they can do it if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect you have alcohol or drugs in your system and drove in the past three hours.

They can also make you do a physical coordination test. Fail the test and the officer can request urine and blood samples to confirm or refute their suspicions. If you refuse to provide the requested samples you’re committing an offense for which the penalty varies depending on the severity of the accident.

If you knew or ought to have known that your operation of the vehicle resulted in an accident causing death and you refuse to do a breathalyzer test or provide any requested samples, you’re looking at the same sentence as if you were convicted of killing someone while driving drunk. The same goes if you refuse to provide samples when you knew or ought to have known that your impaired driving caused bodily harm.

If your blood alcohol level was above one hundred and sixty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred milliliters of blood at the time of the offense, the court will consider it an “aggravating circumstance” which could add to your sentence.

The rules regarding sobriety and legal blood alcohol limits are extremely problematic.

They set a standard without taking into account certain biological facts.

Like the fact that men and women digest alcohol differently.

Men are able to drink more than women not only because their larger size means more blood and less body fat, but also because they have a higher concentration of an enzyme called dehydrogenase which breaks down alcohol in the system. Women on the other hand are generally smaller, have more body fat, less dehydrogenase and experience hormonal changes more often resulting in a lower alcohol tolerance.

There is also the size factor to consider. A larger, heavier person is going to be able to handle a lot more alcohol than a smaller, skinnier one. That’s not only science, it’s common sense.

Everyone is different when it comes to alcohol’s effects. Some of us have higher tolerances, some lower, and there are others who are more affected by alcohol due to the medications they are taking. There are plenty of drugs, over the counter and prescription that warn consumers not to use them with alcohol mostly because the medicine will reduce their tolerance.

Canadian law sets one standard for determining guilt for some drunk driving charges even though the prohibited blood alcohol level is not a fair indication of impairment. The laws in place were most likely chosen by experts who convinced legislators that it was the only objective way to prove a driver was drunk. The problem is that technology has yet to come up with a better test, so for now it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid alcohol altogether when driving.

If you drive, drive dry.

* Featured image by James Palinsad via Flickr/Creative Commons

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  • Hey, are the last 7 paragraphs supposed to be italicized? Just wondering if that was a quote or something.

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