Lee Lowrie now has her truck back. (Contributed)

Nanaimo woman wins court challenge after RCMP breathalyze her at home

Woman served one while at sister’s Maple Ridge house

A lawyer who helped a Nanaimo woman who was given a roadside prohibition when she started drinking after getting to her sister’s home in Maple Ridge said police didn’t follow the right steps when arresting his client.

The police acted under changes to the Criminal Code made last December that allow police to make demands for mandatory breath samples.

“If police want to issue immediate roadside prohibitions, they need to do their jobs,” said Jennifer Teryn, with Victoria-based Jeremy Carr and Associates.

READ MORE: Impaired driving laws creates different classes of offenders, says B.C. lawyer

Teryn helped Lee Lowrie after the latter was given a roadside prohibition April 13, when Ridge Meadows RCMP telephoned her while she was at her sister’s home in Maple Ridge.

Lowrie had just had lunch and one drink in a local pub and had returned to her sister’s home and had two more beers as she was sitting in the back yard, Lowrie said.

“I had been home for well over two hours. It was a beautiful day, we were sitting at the pool. We weren’t going anywhere,” Lowrie said Thursday.

When police called, they told her they had some sensitive information to tell her and she thought they wanted to relay some bad news, Lowrie said.

When they arrived at about 6 p.m., they asked her to provide a breath sample into a roadside screening device, Lowrie said.

“I had been home for over two hours,” Lowrie said. “Five cops showed up. I didn’t think that many cops showed up for a murder scene. It was intimidating. They were all female cops, wouldn’t let me put two cents worth in.”

Lowrie was confused.

“They’re making it like I was drunk when I was driving and I wasn’t. I had one drink at the pub. I don’t drink and drive. I haven’t had a speeding ticket or parking violation in 25 years. I’ve never been in trouble with police,” Lowrie said.

They got her to wait in a police car, then issued her the prohibition, which suspended her licence for 90 days and impounded her truck for 30. Police called a tow truck and hauled away her 1992 Toyota 4X4, which she relies on for work.

Lowrie had asked to be able to provide a second breath sample, but wasn’t given the chance. That’s shown in a video she took while being put into the police car.

A second sample could have shown a lower alcohol reading.

“I was just shaking. I’d never experienced anything like this in my life,” Lowrie said.

She said she’d understand if police had followed her home and asked her to provide a breath sample.

The truck stayed impounded until May 7 and would have cost $1,000 to get out, had the prohibition not been reversed, Lowrie said.

Overall, the whole episode cost Lowrie about $3,500 in legal fees, processing fees, travel and lost holidays.

She still doesn’t know who called police.

“You don’t have to leave your name. If you want to screw with somebody’s livelihood … you just phone in your licence plate, you don’t have to leave your number or anything and they’ll just go over the person’s house and ruin their life,” said Lowrie.

The changes made in December 2018 to the Criminal Code have added the power to request mandatory breath samples, to that of requiring reasonable suspicion, in order to ask a motorist to provide a breath sample.

“The problem with the current state of the law is that Parliament has removed suspicion at all. So we’ve fallen … to a standard of absolutely no suspicion, that’s the problem,” Teryn said.

However, police can’t just show up hours later like they did, without any reasonable suspicion and make a mandatory alcohol-screening demand under the Criminal Code for the purposes of issuing an immediate roadside prohibition, Teryn said.

“None of this would have happened if the law hadn’t been changed.”

Requiring a mandatory breath sample can only be made if a person is in care and control of vehicle, according to the Ministry of Justice website.

But Teryn said police could still make a demand if they know approximately when someone was driving.

Teryn said, in her client’s case, the police said in their notes that Lowrie did not request a second test, when in fact, she had. Lowrie had the video to back that up and that’s why the prohibition was reversed, said Teryn.

Teryn made that case to the adjudicator who reviews roadside prohibitions and had Lowrie’s driving prohibition cancelled and all fees and charges reversed and her licence restored.

Ridge Meadows Sgt. Brenda Gresiuk said she couldn’t comment on the decision by the adjudicator because she didn’t have the details of the decision.

“Any time there’s new legislation, we apply the legislation to the circumstances. We work to the letter of the law. If legislation changes, we get the updated information, then we apply the law.”

ALSO READ: B.C. man, 30, arrested for driving his parents’ cars while impaired twice in one day

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