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Senate balks at random tests

Conservative senators are leading a charge to gut legislation aimed at cracking down on impaired driving — voting to delete a measure Conservatives have previously championed.

The Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee voted late Wednesday to delete a provision from Bill C-46 that would authorize police to conduct random roadside breathalyzer tests, without needing reasonable grounds to suspect the driver may be impaired by alcohol.

The move was proposed by Conservative Sen. Denise Batters on the grounds that the provision is likely to violate the charter of rights and would, therefore, be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional.

She won the backing of four other Conservatives senators on the committee, as well as the committee chair, Liberal independent Sen. Serge Joyal, a constitutional expert in his own right.

Five independent senators voted against deleting the provision, including Sen. Marc Gold, who is also a constitutional law expert. One Liberal independent abstained.

Among the Conservatives who supported deletion was Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais, a former police officer. Just two years ago, Dagenais joined former Conservative public safety minister Steven Blaney at a news conference, where the MP introduced a private member's bill that contained a similar provision on random alcohol breath tests.

Blaney's bill was applauded by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and received unanimous support in principle among all parties in the House of Commons, with Conservatives being particularly enthusiastic.

So it came as a surprise to many when Conservative senators spearheaded the move to remove the random breath testing measure from Bill C-46.

"It's unacceptable. It guts the bill," Sen. Peter Harder, the government's representative in the Senate, said Thursday.

"It appears as though obstruction of the policy agenda of the government of Canada is of higher priority than consistency of policy position," he added.

C-46 is a companion bill to government legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, which the Conservatives have attempted to block at every turn. However, the provision on random roadside testing is meant to apply only to alcohol.

"This is shocking," said MADD CEO Andrew Murie.

"You kind of wonder if this is based on what they say is legal concerns or is this politics being played out?" he added, accusing Conservative senators of using C-46 to try to delay passage of C-45, the cannabis legalization bill.

The committee's report on C-46, along with its recommended amendments, is expected to be debated in the Senate next week. Harder said he'll move to have the deleted provision restored.



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