Can a person be convicted of a criminal offence if they’re drunk and asleep in a vehicle with the keys in the ignition? The answer is Yes. Under Section 253(1) of the Criminal Code, it is an offence for a person not only to operate, but also to have care or control of a motor vehicle if their ability is impaired by alcohol. One does not actually need to be driving the vehicle to be charged with the offence.
If the keys are merely in the ignition, it suggests care or control, and in most cases, a conviction is readily imposed by the Courts. However, in a very unique case, which in fact, made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, a conviction from the Court of Appeal was overturned.
Here’s the background. A fellow in Quebec, after a night of drinking, was too inebriated and unfit to drive, so he requested that a taxi be called. It was a cold February night and he had to wait outside. He got into his truck, started the engine, turned on the heat and fell asleep. The cabbie arrived and called the police. The fellow was promptly arrested and charged with (1) having care or control of a motor vehicle while his ability was impaired and (2) with more than the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. At issue was whether danger was an essential element of the offence. The trial judge found that there was no such risk in the present circumstances. He acquitted the accused of both charges. The Crown appealed the decision. The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal, set the acquittals aside and entered convictions. Those convictions were appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. On November 11th, the Court overturned those convictions and restored the trial judge’s dismissal. Why? It all had to do with the realistic risk of danger as opposed to a remote possibility. The Supreme Court agreed with the original trial judge that, given the circumstances, the accused had no intention of actually setting his vehicle into motion. Since he posed no risk of danger, the Supreme Court restored the acquittals.
D. Glenn Einfeld is a highly knowledgeable and experienced BC personal injury lawyer and BC motorcycle accident lawyer who has successfully litigated many ICBC claims and other insurance claims, including out of province claims, wrongful death, brain injury, spinal cord injury, whiplash, soft tissue injury, and all other serious injury claims.