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Section 320.14 (1)(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada: Operation while Impaired

Operation while impaired charges (by alcohol or drugs)

A charge for operation while impaired under Section 320.14 (1)(a) will be laid if the police believe you were operating a motor vehicle or vessel (boat) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the level of impairment. While 80 mgs/100 ml of blood is generally accepted to be the range of criminality for impaired driving, a person can still be charged and convicted in court for operation while impaired even if they blow under 80 or are tested to be under 80 at the hospital.

One of the reasons the police conduct roadside sobriety tests on video is to demonstrate in court that the accused was impaired at the time of the arrest. Everyone is different and for some who are legitimately under 80 they may still be drunk depending on their body size and prior alcohol usage experience. This means you can be arrested, charged for, and convicted of DUI in Canada even if you are under 80.

In cases where the accused blows or is tested to be under 80 the Crown Attorney may agree to reduce the charges to a careless and drop the criminal charges.

The accused also has a much greater chance of being able to prove they were not impaired at trial.

Being pulled over by the police is always a stressful experience and everyone reacts differently to it. Sometimes people are just so nervous they do not perform the tests to the best of their abilities. The police may also be overly eager to declare a person to be impaired after investing so much time in detaining them. With the legalization of marijuana in Canada for personal use police may also conclude a person who is acting strange is impaired by cannabis or crossfaded by a combination of cannabis and alcohol.

While a person’s blood alcohol level (BAC) is easy to measure, it is much more difficult to determine whether someone has consumed cannabis to the point of impairment particularly at the roadside. If someone performs poorly on the tests, the officer feels their talking is off, pupils not normally dilated, etc. they will use this as evidence to lay criminal charges. Such forms of “evidence” can often be disproved and successfully disputed in court or brought to the attention of the Crown Attorney before trial leading to the charges being dropped.

Most people are not just charged with “Operation while Impaired” under CC Section 320.14 (1)(a) they are also charged with 320.14 (1)(b) for having a BAC of over 80 mgs per 100 ml or Section 320.15 (1) for failure or refusal to provide a breath sample.

The operation while impaired charge is often laid as a failsafe by the police if the breath or blood testing does not go as planned or is rejected by the court for technical or Charter reasons. They can say that despite there is no usable scientific evidence that the accused was over 80 they were still impaired. Operating while impaired carries the same penalties as being over 80 or failure/refusal to provide a breath sample (criminal record and up to 10 years imprisonment).

From the perspective of the police it does not matter which charge the person is found guilty of. Canadian “double jeopardy” or res judicata laws also require the Crown to drop at least one of them or the court to find the accused not guilty of one either way. Most police forces in Ontario always charge for both offences on all DUI cases which many criminal defence lawyers would describe as “over charging”. In any event it is common practice to have at least 2 separate charges in DUI cases at a minimum.

If I was under 80 BAC or the evidence against me was not collected legally by the police can I get off on an operation while impaired Section 320.14(1)(a) charge?

Every case has individual facts but the #1 factor that Crown Attorneys will consider are the BAC readings and whether they are legally permissible in court. At some courthouses a first time offence Section 320.14 (1) charge where the accused blows under 100 mgs absent any aggravating factors and strong mitigating ones may be reduced to a careless driving HTA offence while at others the Crown Attorney will seek a short jail sentence and a criminal record.

Every community in Ontario is different and DUI cases are not treated the same everywhere. As a general personal observation, the further you get from Toronto the tougher the Crown Attorneys seem to get. This being said, any DUI charge is extremely serious because the minimum punishment upon conviction is a criminal record that can impact a person’s employability, immigration status, and travel abilities for the rest of their lives.

In some Ontario towns and cities those charged with operation while impaired under Section 320.14(1)(a) may have their names, ages, and sometimes faces put out in the media.

When someone gets charged with operation while impaired or any DUI offence it is a matter of public record. The police have a right to put out a press release about the charges (though they normally do not in most cases). Anyone including journalists can attend court to document what is happening. The level of interest in someone being charged with operation while impaired will vary from case to case. The chance of a person’s DUI charges being reported by the media will depend on how newsworthy or interesting it is in their own community. The most relevant factors include:
  1. If the accused is well known, famous, or otherwise holds a high profile well respected job/position;

  2. If there are any injuries, deaths, or substantial property damage as a result of an accident;

  3. The size of the community where the accused was charged - the smaller the more likely people will be interested in knowing about it.
If an electrician in Toronto gets pulled over and blows a 100 with no accident it would be unlikely their case would become public in the media. If the Mayor did the same thing it obviously would. This is an extreme example but if the same electrician lived in Barrie, for example, or any myriad other places in Ontario that are not Toronto (GTA), Hamilton or Ottawa the local media may decide their arrest and charges are something that should be reported to the members of the community.

For the accused being arrested for and charged with operation while impaired gets put on the internet forever.

Rarely does the end result of the case ever get reported even if the accused is later found not guilty or the charges get dropped. The reason this is legal is that in Canada everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, it is unlikely most people see things this way on a social level meaning the charges can impact the reputation of the person for the rest of their lives even if they are innocent.

We work hard to clear the names of our clients who are wrongfully charged with operation while impaired. Whether the defences are technical, scientific, legal/Charter, procedural (often based on mistakes found in the video evidence disclosure), or factually based nobody should have their life and reputation ruined unjustly for being charged with operating a vehicle while impaired under s. 320.14 (1)(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Call us today.

You don't have to jeopardize your future or waste thousands of dollars on excessive legal fees. We provide effective and affordable lawyer representation for those charged with impaired driving offences throughout Ontario.

Have a skilled criminal lawyer who focuses on impaired driving related charges protect you and your future from the stigma and consequences of a criminal record.

    call us: 647-228-5969


  call us: 647-228-5969


Your case will be defended by a fully licensed Practicing Lawyer of the Law Society of Ontario. For more information about our lawyer, click here.

We provide our clients with:
  • Flat fee pricing
  • US travel advice and information
  • Employment background check advice/services
  • Fingerprints and records destruction services
  • Clear goals of getting charges dropped and bail conditions varied without a trial
  • Help with related immigration issues
  • Vulnerable Sector records suppression help
  • Experienced, focused counsel

* Please note:

If you are not a paying client, we cannot answer questions and provide assistance with U.S. travel, immigration, employment background checks, and avoiding a criminal record. This includes those who have already retained other counsel and those whose cases have already been completed.

Are you a lawyer? If you are defending an impaired driving related case and are looking for expert advice regarding possible defences, case strategies, and information release management call us at: 647-228-5969.

Please note: We do not accept legal aid certificate cases. All clients are handled on a private retainer only.


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  We provide:
  • Flat fee pricing
  • 99%+ non-conviction success rate
  • U.S. travel advice and information
  • Help with related immigration issues
  • Employment background check advice/services
  • Fingerprints and records destruction services
  • A clear goal of getting the charges dropped without a trial
  • Vulnerable Sector records suppression help
  • Timely resolutions
  • Lawyer/client privilege
  • Experienced, focused counsel