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COVID-19 concerns prompting breathalyzer refusals: Vancouver laywer

Last Updated Jul 14, 2020 at 12:05 am PDT

Summary

A local lawyer has seen an influx of people refusing to take breathalyzers because they worry it is unsafe amid COVID-19

Refusing to blow into the breathalyzer carries a hefty penalty including steep fines, driving prohibition

RCMP are not required to wear PPE when conducting road checks, are reviewing this policy

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee says her firm is being inundated with new clients who refused to give a breath sample during a road check because of concerns over COVID-19.

“We have had dozens of clients since the pandemic started who’ve had this issue,” Lee says. “A number of clients are coming to me saying they’ve refused to give a breath sample on the basis of the fact that the officers were not practising social distancing, not wearing a mask or gloves, and they didn’t do anything to assure them they would take the test in sanitary procedures.”

And refusing to blow into the breathalyzer carries a hefty penalty.

“It’s a 90-day prohibition from driving, 30-day vehicle impound, $500 fine and mandatory remedial alcohol and driving course which costs $900. And your insurance rates go up because of it, so the consequences are huge,” Lee explains. 

Personal protective equipment is not mandatory for police while doing road checks in B.C., and some drivers who have been pulled over are concerned over a lack of safe physical distancing during these encounters.

RELATED: Richmond man questions why masks aren’t mandatory for RCMP during road checks

Forensic Criminalist Jan Semenoff says even if an officer is wearing a mask, the virus could potentially spread through the breathalyzer itself.

“Even if this device is cleaned, there’s a little sampling port right there that can’t be disinfected at road-side and if the person providing their breath sample and inhales even momentarily, air would come up through that sampling mouthpiece and they would be contaminated,” he explains. 

Lee agrees the nature of the task makes collecting a breath sample concerning.

“When they know that people are going to be in close contact, when they know that somebody’s going to be putting their mouth on something being handled by the officer — and we know this virus can be transmitted by droplets — that is the highest risk you could have in an interaction with a police officer,” she says. 

The RCMP does “highly recommend” the use of PPE when collecting breath samples, according to Supt. Holly Turton, who’s in charge of the RCMP’s impaired driving program.

“If they have requested a breath sample from someone they are obviously going to be in very close contact with that person,” she notes.

In a statement to CityNews on Monday Sgt. Janelle Shoihet with the RCMP writes, “ We are continually assessing our best practices and revisiting guidelines as it relates to our COVID response. Discussions are underway with respect to PPE and roadblocks.”