Penalties for impaired driving convictions are outlined in both the Criminal Code of Canada, as well as provincial traffic safety acts. This is a guideline as to certain minimum and maximum sentencing requirements. Actual sentencing can vary from case to case depending on numerous and variable factors. The general Alberta sentencing and licence suspension situation is outlined below.

The Criminal Code provides for a graduated minimum penalty scheme depending on the number of prior related convictions:

Minimum Penalties
1 st offence $1000 fine 1 – 3 year driving prohibition
2 nd offence 30 days jail 2 – 5 year driving prohibition
3 rd or more offence 120 days jail not less than 3 year driving prohibition

Prohibitions and sentences are often increased from the minimum provisions in the discretion of the sentencing judge.

The AlbertaHighway Traffic & Safety Act regulates provincial suspensions. These run concurrent with the court imposed driving prohibitions noted above:

Minimum Suspensions
1 st offence 1 year suspension
2 nd offence 3 years if prior occurred within past 10 years
3 rd or more offence 5 years if prior occurred within past 10 years

The Criminal Code allows for a shorter period of prohibition in provinces, such as Alberta, that operate an Ignition Interlock Program. To be eligible in Alberta for this program the sentencing judge must not prohibit it, and the Transportation Safety Board must allow the application. The successful applicant must pay for the installation, use, monitoring and removal of the device.

An ignition interlock is a alcohol sensing device installed on the applicant’s vehicle which requires random samples of breath from the driver to continue the vehicle’s operation. If an alcohol level above a certain minimal level is detected the vehicle will be shut down. The driver must pay for the installation and monitoring of this device.

Interlock Reductions
1 st offence reduction to as low as 3 months
2 nd offence reduction to as low as 6 months
3 rd and subsequent offences reduction to as low as 12 months

It is important to note that some of the above stated minimum penalties may be subject to prosecutorial discretion and Criminal Code notice requirements.

Important: The Interlock program in Alberta now makes mandatory that an interlock be installed in the convicted driver’s vehicle for at least 12 months prior to obtaining their unrestricted licence back if convicted of refusal, blowing over or impaired driving. An exemption can be applied for if your blood alcohol level was below 160 mg%. This period increases significantly if there are any prior related convictions within the previous 10 year period.

Note: If you have previously been convicted of impaired driving you should make sure that you obtain a Pardon after the required waiting period (3 – 5 years). This removes the conviction from your criminal record.

Where bodily harm or death has resulted from an impaired driving conviction potential penalties are greatly increased.

Impaired Causing Bodily Harm

Imprisonment up to 10 years with a driving prohibition up to 10 years.

Impaired Causing Death

Imprisonment up to life with a driving prohibition for any period the “court considers proper.”

A final sentencing option available to the judge is a curative discharge. If you recognize that you have an alcohol or drug addiction you may call evidence, usually from a medical doctor, that you are seriously addressing the problem by seeking ongoing treatment and counseling (ie AA or NA meetings). If the judge is satisfied that the problem, and your efforts to manage it, are genuine he may discharge you instead of entering a conviction. A curative discharge will involve a period of probation involving several conditions in relation to treatment. A driving prohibition will, however, still be ordered.

Administrative Licence Suspensions

In 2012 the Alberta government passed a new administrative suspension law. Key elements of law:

  • 24 hour licence suspensions for those blowing a warn on the roadside screening device will be replaced with the following for those who blow between .05 and .08 blood alcohol
  • 1st offence – 3 day suspension and 3 day vehicle seizure
  • 2nd offence – 15 day suspension and 7 day vehicle seizure and mandatory “Planning Ahead” course
  • 3rd offence – 30 day suspension and 7 day vehicle seizure and “Impact” course.

For those charged with refusal to blow, blowing over .08 or impaired driving the following replaces the previous law that provided for a 3 month licence suspension beginning 21 days after being charged (so called “grace period”):

  • immediate suspension which remains in effect until the criminal charge is resolved (ie. Guilty plea, conviction or acquittal)

    • 1st offence – 3 day vehicle seizure
    • 2nd offence – 7 day vehicle seizure
    • 3rd offence – 7 day vehicle seizure
    • mandatory ignition interlock after criminal conviction – 1 year for 1st offence; 2 years for 2nd offence; 5 years for 3rd offence.

Appeal provisions to the provincial administrative tribunal (Traffic Safety Board) exist which places the onus on the accused person to establish that they did not commit the offences in question. Several appeals challenging this legislation are currently being fought in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.