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Impaired driving laws debated as cannabis legalization approaches

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The Senate and House of Commons are debating changes to roadside testing in anticipation of legal marijuana in October and proposed amendments to the impaired driving bill in June are causing concern for both lawyers and police across the country.
    The federal legislature is currently making amendments to sister bills C-45 and C-46 to be passed in time for legalization on October 17. Bill C-45, known as the marijuana legalization bill, is concerned with amending the controlled drugs and substances act while Bill C-46 will amend the criminal code for when cannabis is legal.
    The Senate recently amended bill C-46 to allow law enforcement to conduct random alcohol and drug roadside tests. Under current laws, law enforcement may only conduct intoxication tests when there is probable cause, such as erratic driving, slurred speech, and other evidence.
    The Liberal government has said they disagree with the proposed amendments made by the Senate but the changes are still being debated in the legislature.
    Uncertain over what impaired driving laws will look like when cannabis becomes legal is another uncertainty facing police across the country, says Drumheller RCMP Staff Sergeant Kevin Charles. He says police are waiting for all information to be provided before coming up with best practices and operation.
    “I don’t think a whole lot of changes will happen. We can charge someone who is high with impaired driving right now, even before legalization of cannabis,” Charles says.
    “The driving evidence (for alcohol and drug impairment) is going to be very similar, both are impaired driving of a motor vehicle.”
    Lawyer Hugh Sommerville says the Senate’s proposed changes to impaired driving laws may be an issue for defence lawyers.
    “It causes some concern for many defence lawyers when the police do not need reasonable grounds and can just do something on a whim,” Sommerville says.
    “There are public safety reasons to give police officers quite a bit of power to investigate things like impaired driving, but one of the reasons for concern is there has been a history of targeting certain visible minorities and racial groups.”
    Sommerville says while the amendments seem like a reasonable tool for police to combat impaired driving it is a question of how fairly it is used with different groups of people. He says minority groups tend to be targeted more by law enforcement which creates the illusion they are committing more offences. For example, Aboriginal adults account for one in four admissions to correctional services while only making up three per cent of the population, according to Statistics Canada.
    But Charles says in Drumheller’s case this is not true.
    “We don’t make traffic stops based on the physical appearances of somebody, unless they appear to be intoxicated. It doesn’t come down to skin or gender, but comes down to abiding by the law,” Charles says.
    Random police stops already do exist in the form of check stops for impaired driving and these programs have proved successful, says Sommerville.
    He says police do not have time to stop random people on the street and administer tests, but police should be able to “enunciate some reason to want to do a test.”
    The government has yet to bring forward this motion in the House. Once it does, it’s expected there will be a debate and vote to send the message back to the Senate.


Rural crime app launched by Hanna RCMP

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A phone application which allows rural residents to report suspicious activity has been launched by the Hanna RCMP and Hanna Rural Crime Watch in an effort to combat rural crime.

The app allows residents to file reports of suspicious activity including uploading descriptions and images of suspects, vehicles and other details to Hanna RCMP and other users of the app. RCMP members then receive a notification on their work devices which can be used to aid their work. App users also see reports so they are alerted to watch for potential criminal activity.

“Crime was starting to become a problem in our area and that made me think to get something started and it just went from there,” says Hanna RCMP Constable Braden Marlow, who helped develop the software in partnership with Calgary developer Terrance May.

“I came up with this idea with Terrance to combat this and give people a resource which makes them feel like something’s being done about it – to do something front line that they can initiate and send out to members,” he said.

Although it is still being developed and described as being in its early stages, Cst. Marlow says the app has a lot of potential in being an effective tool for law enforcement in rural areas. The idea of crowdsourcing information from residents in this way is a first in the province and maybe the country.

And the idea is catching on. Officials from both Starland County and Drumheller RCMP have met with Cst. Marlow and have shown interest in developing their own apps for the region.

But the app is not a replacement to traditional policing methods.

“The one thing we’ve said since the beginning is that this isn’t a replacement for 911 but is an tool for people in rural properties,” says Cst. Marlow, saying residents still need to contact 911 but this tool can be used in to help assist officers and to alert other app users. The app allows other rural residents to react to members' reports of crimes and be notified to watch for suspicious activity in the area.

“If you see something wrong or a suspicious vehicle you can put the info down and it sends a message to us to use and we will monitor from there and set up a strategy.”

The application is called ‘Hanna Rural Crime Watch’ and can currently be downloaded on the Google Play app store.

Banner project to honour veterans kicks off

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The Drumheller Legion, the Drumheller Genealogy Club, and the Town are hoping to line the streets with memories of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in war.
    These groups are working together on the Salute a Veteran Remembrance Project.  They are getting banners designed to hang from the town light posts honouring local veterans leading up to Remembrance Day.
    Debbie Laplante, a long time Legion and Genealogy Club member, explains they are looking for sponsors to have these locally sourced banners made and displayed. According to a release, “the outcome would result in a visual reminder honouring the service and sacrifices made by our Veterans and their families.”
    She explains the project originated in Harriston, Ontario and spread to about a half a dozen communities in Eastern Canada. The only other communities in Western Canada that have undertaken the project are Invermere and Swift Current.
    The banners will feature an image of a veteran, their name, the conflict they served in, the branch of the military and the sponsor’s name. They measure 51X24 inches, and the town has agreed to hang the banners downtown.
    They are planning to hang the banners on October 1, and take them down after Remembrance Day. Laplante says this will promote awareness of Remembrance Day, and the service of our veterans. She adds it is fitting to do the project now as next year will be the centennial of the end of World War I, and the creation of Remembrance Day and Legions are part of its legacy.  
    The cost to sponsors for the banners is estimated to be about $200 and applications can be picked up at the Legion and various businesses throughout Drumheller. Laplante envisions the banners to line Centre Street and Veterans Way and hopes they will have 20 this season, with an eye to increasing the count each year.
    For more information contact the Legion at 403-823-5611.


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