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Approved Screening Devices

Why is an Approved Screening Device approved?

Last month there was a lot of media attention regarding the problem of using Approved Screening Devices (a.k.a. ASD) for the purpose of issuing roadside driving prohibitions. The Superintendent of Motor Vehicles was quoted as saying that the ASDs are federally mandated and federally approved, just like ground beef. And nobody stopped to question that. But what does it mean to say an Approved Screening Device is approved?

When the government in Ottawa is considering whether a breathalyzer should be approved as an Approved Screening Device they turn to a group called the Alcohol Test Committee. The people in this committee usually have science degrees and they work for the RCMP. They periodically set standards for ASDs. And when a new device is proposed to be added to the list of ASDs, these people or others in the RCMP lab usually test them.

The standards that they set are intended to sort out devices that should be used as screeners and devices that don’t meet the criteria. Now, the most important issue here is that screening devices are not intended as punishment devices. The devices used to provide evidence justifying punishment are call Approved Instruments. These are vastly more sophisticated machines. Screening devices are intended for screening, i.e. to quickly assess the possible sobriety of the driver to determine whether they should be arrested or detained.

If a person is arrested on the basis of a faulty screening device, which is surprisingly common, they will be exonerated by the generally reliable breath tests into an Approved Instrument.

The problem that seems to have been lost in the discussion is that in BC with the IRP roadside driving prohibition program, ASDs are now being used for a purpose that was not contemplated when they were approved. In fact, they are being used for a purpose that is distinctly outside of the purpose for which they were approved. They are being used as the devices to provide evidence justifying punishment.

So in answer to the statement of the Superintendent, yes the Approved Screening Devices are approved, but they are not approved for the purpose of punishing people such as we now do in BC with the IRP program. So to say that they are federally approved is technically correct, but greatly misleading. They were never approved for punishing people.

Approved Screening Devices were not approved for the purpose of issuing IRPs. When the police issue an IRP there is no opportunity for the driver to be exonerated by way of blowing into an Approved Instrument in the event that the ASD sample was inaccurate.

It worries us that the Superintendent doesn’t seem to understand this yet he advocates for these laws.