Behaviours – Drugs and Medication

What the Law Says

Driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs or medication is a dangerous behaviour that is severely punished under the Criminal Code and the Highway Safety Code.

The criminal code in brief

The Criminal Code is a federal law that applies in all Canadian provinces and territories. It sets out the rules and penalties that apply in the event of driving offences involving alcohol, drugs and medication: prison time, fines, driving prohibition periods, etc.

Under the criminal code, you could be arrested and convicted if:

Your blood alcohol concentration is over 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08)

At any time you are driving a vehicle, a police officer can order you to blow into an approved screening device or, if he or she suspects you have consumed alcohol, submit you to roadside physical coordination tests. Based on the results, the police officer may arrest you and take you to the police station in order to measure your blood alcohol concentration using a breathalyzer. If your blood alcohol concentration is equal to or over 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08), you could face Criminal Code charges.

You have drugs or certain medications in your blood

If a police officer suspects that you have consumed drugs or certain medications, you may be required to submit to physical coordination tests or take a saliva test. These tests are enough for the police officer to place you under arrest and require that you provide a blood sample.

For example, if your blood sample contains a concentration of cannabis (THC) that is above the concentration prescribed by federal regulation, you could face Criminal Code charges. The prescribed blood drug concentrations for cannabis are as follows:

  • 2 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood
  • 5 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood
  • 2.5 anograms of THC per millilitre of blood, combined with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or over 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood

For all other federally controlled drugs, any detectable trace at all is enough to face charges, with the exception of GHB.

Your ability to drive is impaired by alcohol, drugs or medication

If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you are impaired by alcohol or drugs (including medication) or a combination of alcohol and a drug, he or she can place you under arrest without having you take any tests.If a police officer suspects that you have consumed alcohol, drugs or medication, you may be required to submit to physical coordination tests, to blow into an alcohol screening device or to take a saliva test. At any time you are driving a vehicle, a police officer can order you to blow into an approved screening device.

These tests are enough for the police officer to place you under arrest and bring you to the police station in order to have you undergo another series of tests by an evaluating officer. The evaluating officer may measure your blood alcohol concentration using a breathalyzer, if you are suspected of having consumed alcohol. If the evaluating officer concludes that your ability to drive was impaired, you could face Criminal Code charges.

You refuse to obey the orders of a peace officer

Refusing to submit to the tests ordered by a police officer is a criminal offence that automatically results in the stiffest penalties.

Useful information

Care or control of a vehicle

The law not only prohibits impaired driving, but also having the care or control of a vehicle while impaired. Here are some situations that can have the same consequences as impaired driving:

  • sitting in the driver’s seat, even if the vehicle is stopped or broken down
  • being in the vehicle (even asleep on the back seat) and having the possibility of starting the engine
  • being near the vehicle, for example to brush snow off the car or put things in the trunk

The police officer will assess whether it was possible for the person to drive the vehicle and whether he or she intended to drive.

The highway safety code in brief

The Highway Safety Code is a provincial law that applies only in Québec. It sets out administrative measures and penalties that can be imposed for impaired driving.

If your blood alcohol concentration is equal to or over 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08)

  • Immediate licence suspension for 90 days
  • Immediate seizure and impoundment of the vehicle for 90 days, in the case of a repeat offence

If your blood alcohol concentration is equal to or over 160 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.16)

  • Immediate licence suspension for 90 days
  • Immediate seizure and impoundment of the vehicle for 30 days (90 days, in the case of a repeat offence)
  • Program to assess and reduce the risk of impaired driving (website in French only)
  • Alcohol ignition interlock device (depending on the situation)

Refusing to obey the orders of a peace officer

  • Immediate licence suspension for 90 days
  • Immediate seizure and impoundment of the vehicle for 30 days (90 days, in the case of a repeat offence)
  • Program to assess and reduce the risk of impaired driving (website in French only)
  • Alcohol ignition interlock device (depending on the situation)

Zero alcohol for drivers under age 22, learner drivers and holders of a probationary licence

  • Immediate licence suspension for 90 days
  • demerit points
  • Fine of $300 to $600

Zero alcohol for bus, minibus and taxi drivers

  • Prohibition from driving these kinds of vehicles for 24 hours

Limit of 0.05 for heavy vehicle drivers

  • Prohibition from driving these kinds of vehicles for 24 hours

Failing the tests carried out by an evaluating officer at the police station (impaired driving due to drugs or medication, or by a combination of alcohol and drugs)

  • Immediate licence suspension for 90 days
  • Immediate seizure and impoundment of the vehicle for 90 days, in the case of a repeat offence