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Ethical tightrope? Vancouver law firm mails out branded air fresheners ahead of new pot driving laws

Last Updated Dec 6, 2018 at 7:02 am PDT

(NEWS 1130 Photo)

Vancouver-based law firm is warning clients about new impaired driving laws with air fresheners to mask smell of pot

A Vancouver lawyer is mailing out air fresheners to warn people about new pot driving laws, raising ethical questions

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A Vancouver-based law firm is using air fresheners as a way to warn people about upcoming changes to cannabis driving laws.

The air fresheners were mailed out to clients of Acumen Law, which specializes in impaired driving defence.

It’s packaging directs users to “place the Acu-freshener in your pocket so you smell fresh and delightful” if you are pulled over or are approaching a road block.

Currently, if police pull you over, they can demand that you provide a sample into a road-side breath tester, but they can only do that if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are impaired, defence lawyer Paul Doroshenko explains.

However, starting Dec. 18, that will change.

“The police are going to just make random demands for samples, and a lot of people understand the concept of the reasonable suspicion that they don’t have to blow unless the police officer has a reasonable suspicion,” he adds.

“They’re going to find themselves in circumstances where they do not understand that they must provide a sample, as of December 18th, to any demand to a roadside alcohol breath tester.”

Doroshenko says he and his firm worry there will be a spike in the number of refusal charges, and believes it’ll just come down to the fact many misunderstand the law.

The Acu-freshener features the Acumen Law Corporation’s logo in big, as well as the firm’s number and website.

According to the packaging, it’s to ensure “you have our 24-hour phone number handy.”

(NEWS 1130 Photo)

Doroshenko says the air fresheners are a tool to protect innocent people from the long reach of changes to the law.

“You can have the smell of marijuana, burnt cannabis in your clothing for days afterward. You can not be impaired in any way, shape, or form.”

He believes the federal government is “hellbent on trying to persecute Canadians who are not doing anything wrong,” and calls the new changes unconstitutional.

“It’s not a middle finger to law-makers at all. It’s that people don’t have the phone number of their lawyer,” Doroshenko adds.

The ‘bad side of a grey area’

It’s not the air freshener itself that’s worrisome, according one law ethicist.

UBC’s Andrew Martin says it’s that it comes complete with instructions on how to use it if approaching a check top that makes it questionable.

“Lawyers have to be careful they don’t engage in any activity that assists or encourages dishonesty, crime, or fraud,” he tells NEWS 1130. “Helping them avoid a roadside test, that would be crossing the line into problematic conduct.”

Doroshenko says that is not his firm’s intent.

Martin admits this marketing falls into a grey area, “but probably the bad side of a grey area.”

While soliciting clients with a letter isn’t necessarily problematic, Martin says lawyers need to be careful.

Air freshener itself is not uncommon or “bad”, he adds, but when it’s used in the context of suggesting people use it to avoid a roadside test, that’s when things can get “skunky,” he says.

“It’s hard to say with marijuana, because is the smell in the car the driver? Is the smell from the passengers? So it’s not necessarily obvious that the driver has done anything wrong, but to the extent the driver is trying to avoid a roadside test, that would be problematic,” Martin notes.

He points out some law societies, like the Law Society of Ontario, have been cracking down on advertising over the past couple of years.

Martin says he can’t say for sure whether or not the Acu-freshener crosses an ethical line, but he adds it “certainly is something that the Law Society of B.C. might be concerned about.”

“I can’t assume what they would do with it, but they could investigate and if they thought disciplinary proceedings were appropriate, they could pursue those,” Martin says.

-With files from Lasia Kretzel