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Investigation over roadside suspensions

By GARY MCKENNA
October 25, 2011 · Updated 12:38 PM
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Vancouver lawyer Paul Doroshenko says an error in calibration of roadside alcohol screening devices by Port Moody Police Department calls into question driver’s licence suspensions that have been issued. / GARY MCKENNA/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

Anyone who has received a driving suspension in Port Moody in the last year after failing a roadside breath test may not have been over the legal limit, according to a lawyer who handles drunk driving cases.

Paul Doroshenko told The Tri-City News the Port Moody Police Department has been improperly calibrating its screening devices, which could mean some people have received suspensions unfairly.

“People in Port Moody need to know that all year long, the officer who has been doing this has been doing it incorrectly,” Doroshenko said. “The results are not reliable.”

In response to Doroshenko’s claims, Port Moody Police Department has asked the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner to order an investigation, which would be conducted by an outside agency.

An internal review with respect to training, procedures and policies related to the screening devices will also be conducted, PMPD spokesperson Const. Bill Kim said in a press release.

“The allegations made are serious and we are treating them accordingly,” he said in the release. “The Port Moody Police Department is mindful of the seriousness of these allegations and their potential public impact. We will wait for the completion of these investigations before we comment further.”

The issues in Port Moody are an example of a larger problem with the province’s new drunk driving rules, according to Doroshenko. He said roadside screening devices were never intended to be used to determine conclusively whether someone is over the legal limit. Before provincial laws changed last year, most officers would use the device to determine whether someone needed to go back to the police station to blow into a larger, more accurate screening system.

Doroshenko said the unreliability of the hand-held screening devices makes it impossible to know whether someone is truly over the 0.08 legal limit.

“This is now determining not just whether to arrest you but to punish you,” he said. “They are relying on these things to punish people and this device was not designed for that.”

A person who receives a roadside suspension faces more than just a 90-day licence suspension.

There is a financial cost involved, Doroshenko said, and a driver can end up paying close to $5,000 for installation of an interlock device, a mandatory responsible driving course and the fines and fees related to reinstating a driver’s licence.

And those who may have blown into an improperly calibrated machine should be compensated for their trouble, he said.

“My view is, they should get a phone call, an apology and their money back,” Doroshenko said. “The government should be looking at finding ways to compensate them.”

 

HOW IT WORKS

When calibrating an approved screening device an officer uses a bottle of solution in order to simulate the alcohol reading. Because the alcohol in the solution depletes over time, the Office of Motor Vehicles regulations state it must be replaced after 16 tests.

According to information Doroshenko received from the Port Moody Police Department, PMPD’s officer in charge of calibrating the devices has been replacing the solution after 18 tests and believed he was able to use it for up to 50 tests.

There is no way of knowing the accuracy of the Port Moody tests, according to Doroshenko, which puts the results of all roadside screenings taken in the last year in question.

“Most people don’t dispute it,” he said. “They just assume the police are right.”

gmckenna@tricitynews.com