In the Northwest Territories, impaired driving includes alcohol, drugs or a combination of both. Drivers caught with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 can face fines, license suspensions and jail time. Immediate license suspensions occur for drivers caught with a BAC exceeding .05; penalties for impaired driving causing death can result in a life prison sentence. Cannabis and illegal drugs can also impair driving ability, and zero-tolerance policies exist for drivers under 21. The Alcohol Ignition Interlock Program can be installed on your vehicle to prevent operation if alcohol is detected.
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Impaired Driving in the Northwest Territories
*Generally, the Criminal Code is the basis for impaired driving charges, but there may be supplementary sanctions under provincial law.
In the Northwest Territories, impaired driving is defined as operating a conveyance – including cars, trucks, vessels, snowmobiles, aircraft and off-road vehicles – after consuming alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two. If you are caught with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08, you can be charged under Canada’s Criminal Code and face fines, licence suspensions and jail sentences. Even a small amount of drugs or alcohol in your system can result in an automatic 24-hour licence suspension.
Charged Under the Motor Vehicles Act or Criminal Code
The Northwest Territories governs its roads and highways under the Motor Vehicles Act (MVA). This legislation lays out the rights and responsibilities of drivers in the territory and includes laws to combat impaired driving. If you are caught driving impaired, you can typically expect to be charged under the Criminal Code, with penalties that start with fines and can include life in prison for impaired driving causing death. There can also be supplementary charges under the MVA.
Impaired Driving is Not Limited to Alcohol
You can be charged under the Criminal Code if you drive with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or over 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, or .08. However, alcohol is not the only substance that can impact your ability to drive. Cannabis and illegal drugs can impair your ability to operate a vehicle. So can over-the-counter drugs and prescription medicine, especially when combined with alcohol.
While cannabis is legal in Canada, you can be charged if you operate a motor vehicle while under the influence. It is an offence to have between two and five nanograms of THC – the primary psychoactive component of cannabis – per ml of blood when operating a vehicle. Operating any conveyance, such as an automobile or off-road vehicle, with a reading of five ng or more THC per ml of blood is an even more serious offence. The combined prohibited levels of alcohol and cannabis are 50 mg or more of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood.
Recognizing “young people form the largest segment of Canadian drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle collisions and subsequently test positive for alcohol or drugs,” the Northwest Territories amended the MVA to expand zero alcohol tolerance laws for drivers aged 21 and under.
Novice drivers caught with any drugs or alcohol detected in their systems will receive a 30-day administrative licence suspension/disqualification. They face the same consequences as non-novice drivers for operating a motor vehicle with a BAC at or over .08.
The zero-tolerance policy also applies to drivers of specified commercial vehicles caught with drugs or alcohol in their system. Drivers of tractors, including a combination of a tractor and one or two trailers, straight trucks, taxis, single vehicles with three or more axles, buses, emergency vehicles or school buses, can receive a three-day administrative licence suspension.
Mandatory Alcohol Screening
Police have the right to demand a breath test from you at a roadside stop, even without reasonable suspicion that you have consumed alcohol following the introduction of mandatory alcohol screening (MAS). Prior to this change to the Criminal Code in 2018, police were only permitted to demand a breath test at a roadside stop if there was proof you had been drinking.
You do not have the right to consult a lawyer before providing a breath sample, and you cannot avoid criminal charges by refusing to provide one. Under the Criminal Code, you will face the same penalties for failing or refusing to comply with a peace officer's demand as you would for an impaired driving conviction.
In July 2022, the Northwest Territories RCMP announced that they had begun using roadside screening devices for cannabis. A driver can be asked to provide an oral fluid sample to determine if they are under the influence of THC.
Suspensions are Immediate
If the police have reasonable grounds to believe you have operated a motor vehicle after consuming drugs or alcohol, you can automatically lose your driver’s licence for 24 hours. You can also receive a 24-hour administrative licence suspension/disqualification for having a BAC exceeding .05. That can increase to 30 days if your licence is suspended or disqualified. Also, drivers can receive a 90-day administrative licence suspension/disqualification for blood alcohol concentration exceeding .08.
Consequences of a Criminal Conviction
You can be charged under the Criminal Code if you are caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration at or over .08. A conviction for a first offence means your licence will be suspended for a minimum of one year, and you will be fined at least $1,000. A repeat offender faces a 30-day jail sentence along with a 24-month driving prohibition. A third conviction will result in a minimum 120-day jail term. Your licence will also be suspended for 36 months.
You can be imprisoned for up to 10 years if you have been convicted of impaired driving causing bodily harm. If you are found guilty of impaired driving causing death, you can be sent to prison for life.
Alcohol Ignition Interlock Program
If you have been convicted of impaired driving, you may be eligible for the Alcohol Ignition Interlock Program. Participation in the program can shorten your driving prohibition. Ignition interlock devices are like breathalyzers installed on your vehicle, preventing it from operating if alcohol is detected. The device requires you to provide breath samples randomly while the vehicle is running. If you fail to give a sample or your blood alcohol concentration exceeds the allowed limit, the device will log the event, give a warning and trigger an alarm that will sound until the ignition is turned off. Those eligible for the program are responsible for the cost of installing and using the interlock.