It is a principle of sentencing that laws must be consistent in their application to all Canadians. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that this country’s laws will not have a disproportionate effect on people. It is therefore surprising that the disproportionate impact of driving prohibitions on Canadians have yet to be formally addressed by the courts.
Losing your licence in Peterborough is a completely different experience than losing your licence in downtown Toronto. For many living off the public transit grid, loss of licence means loss of job. Losing your source of income can lead to immeasurable damage. Driving prohibitions and licence suspensions can result in someone losing their home and many other important assets. For those living and working in larger metropolitan areas, this outcome is much less likely. However, it is almost certain that those living in more rural communities will face significant hardships that urban-dwellers will most likely avoid. Yes, driving is a “privilege” but in reality in most of Canada it’s a necessity. It’s how Mom and Dad get to work. It’s how kids get to school. It’s the way groceries find their way from the store to the pantry.
The disproportionate impact of impaired driving sentences on Canadians based on where they live could potentially be found to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To date, the sentences have not been challenged. However, criminal licence prohibitions and provincial suspensions could potentially be challenged under s. 7 (right to security of the person), s. 12 (cruel and unusual punishment) and s. 15 (discrimination). It may be just a matter of time before the courts come to realize that a driving prohibition is quite different for the truck driver in Omemee verses the lawyer on Bay Street.