B.C. senior snared by draconian drunk driving law

Margaret MacDonald is shown in her Cranbrook, B.C. home after was cited for failing to blow into a...

Margaret MacDonald is shown in her Cranbrook, B.C. home after was cited for failing to blow into a road side screening device, her licence was suspended, she was fined $500 and her car was towed. The 82-year-old maintains she was made to stand in the midnight chill for more than two hours while RCMP officers attempted 15 times to obtain a breath sample. (ANNALEE GRANT/Special to QMI Agency)

Michael Platt, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:49 AM ET

CALGARY -- To bully and berate an innocent senior then punish her without a trial for a crime she clearly didn't commit.

This, apparently, is what Alberta has to look forward to under draconian drunk-driving laws inspired by our neighbouring province, where suspected motorists are guilty until they prove themselves innocent.

Fortunately for 82-year-old Margaret MacDonald, tears brought on by allegedly obnoxious B.C. RCMP officers didn't blind her to protecting herself.

"I came into the house and burst into tears -- then I stood here at three o'clock in the morning and thought 'my word means nothing'," said MacDonald.

"Three officers don't believe me, so I phoned the hospital and took a taxi over to have a blood test.

"I'm not going to let the Mounties get away with saying I was drunk."

At the Cranbrook, B.C., hospital, she obtained a laboratory document proving what she'd desperately been trying to tell police a few minutes before.

There was no alcohol in her system -- not a drop -- and yet MacDonald's failure to provide a proper breath sample meant her car was taken away for a month and her licence suspended for 90 days.

Now, $6,000 out-of-pocket and in fear of losing her home, the Cranbrook senior will wait another six months for a ruling on her case, as the B.C. government tweaks legislation to comply with a court order.

It was May 21 when MacDonald was approached by an off-duty RCMP officer, just outside her home.

MacDonald, a near-teetotaler, was returning from an engagement party at a friend's house when she mistakenly turned into the wrong lane. She assumed that's why the police officer was there.

Even when the off-duty cop told MacDonald a breathalyzer was coming to test her for drinking and driving, she didn't worry -- her last serious drink was 60 years ago. "I really don't drink," she said.

What she didn't count on was the lung power needed to properly blow into a police breathalyzer. Having suffered from serious pneumonia a few years ago, she couldn't manage.

That didn't stop RCMP from making her try -- over the next two hours, MacDonald says she was forced to stand in the chill and told to blow 15 times by increasingly snotty RCMP officers.

"He pounded on the hood of his car and shouted at me to blow. He shoved this thing in my mouth and it fell on the ground, and he picked it up and put in back in again," said MacDonald.

"I said, 'I don't drink, I haven't been drinking,' and he said, 'you're sticking your tongue in there because you don't want do this -- you're slurring, you're drunk and you stink of alcohol.'"

RCMP officials are now reviewing the conduct of officers that night, but try as they might, the Mounties couldn't get a sample from the shivering, teary-eyed senior, who was wearing only sandals and a thin dress.

Thus, MacDonald was cited for failing to provide a breath sample, given a Notice of Driving Prohibition for three months, fined $500 and told her car was to be towed.

MacDonald wept, but she was sharp enough to obtain proof of her innocence, because in Canada that used to be enough to make those in power see sense.

Not anymore. Under a system about to be adopted in Alberta, drivers suspected of driving drunk, even under .05%, can lose their licences and cars without a trial.

Even after MacDonald took her blood test to the RCMP station, she was told nothing could be done.

A helpful corporal on duty provided her with a letter, stating: "I believe it is only fair that this Driving Prohibition and Vehicle Impound be terminated and removed from your driving record as soon as possible."

But it didn't end there.

Despite proof of alcohol-free blood, B.C.'s superintendent of motor vehicles adjudicator still found her guilty -- a decision now under review by direct order of B.C. Solicitor General Shirley Bond.

"Obviously, I am concerned with this circumstance but it is important that we get all the facts of the case," Bond said in a statement to QMI Agency.

"As soon as I became aware of this, I directed the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles to review the case and that work is currently underway."

The ordeal took a massive toll on MacDonald -- a few days later, she suffered what doctors in Calgary told her was a mild, stress-related heart attack, leaving her bed-ridden in hospital.

Back in Cranbrook, all she can do is wait.

"I'm nearly 83 and you have to cope with life, but through my years I've never been this traumatized over anything," she said.

"Especially when I'm totally innocent."

michael.platt@sunmedia.ca


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