MONTREAL – The Supreme Court of Canada has approved the confiscation of a vehicle belonging to a repeat drunk driver, which overturns a lower-court ruling.
In a 7-0 decision released Thursday, the justices ruled that a Quebec court was wrong to deny the forfeiture order.
The case involved Alphide Manning, who was arrested near Baie-Comeau in April 2010.
He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of impaired driving and was sentenced to 12 months on one charge and five months on the other. The Crown had also moved to seize the truck Manning was driving when he was arrested.
Manning argued that the loss of the $1,000 vehicle, his sole asset, would be overly harsh.
The Quebec trial judge denied the seizure motion, saying it would be a disproportionate penalty. The Quebec Court of Appeal denied a Crown appeal of the decision.
The Supreme Court, however, said the trial judge was wrong.
“We are not satisfied that the impact of the order of forfeiture sought by the Crown was disproportionate,” the decision said.
The justices said Manning’s record had to be considered.
“The trial judge erroneously emphasized Mr. Manning’s personal circumstances and failed to give appropriate weight … to Mr. Manning’s criminal record, including five convictions on alcohol-related driving offences and three for breaches of probation orders or undertakings.”
The ruling comes as the Quebec government is looking to crack down on drunk driving by making vehicle seizures routine.
Quebec Justice Minister Bertrand St-Arnaud has said he wants to see offenders’ vehicles seized after each infraction and confiscated for good upon a third offence.
The latter measure can already be applied under the law but is not done so often enough, according to St-Arnaud.
Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling could bolster the Crown’s case in future attempts to seize vehicles under such circumstances.
On Thursday, St-Arnaud said he was very pleased with the high court ruling.
“It tells judges that what you need to do is look at, before anything else, is an accused’s prior convictions,” St-Arnaud said at an event in Quebec City.
“The Supreme Court says you have to look at a person’s criminal history and not at their personal situation.”
He called the judgment an extra tool for prosecutors in Quebec to crack down on repeat drunk drivers.
This was one day after the province proposed a number of directives for prosecutors to toughen their stance at every step of legal proceedings involving intoxicated drivers.
Quebec wants repeat offenders to be tagged as “dangerous offenders.” St-Arnaud is asking Ottawa to amend the Criminal Code along those lines. Currently the status is generally reserved for the very worst offenders.
The province also wants Ottawa to consider toughening prison sentences for repeat offenders.