Guest Commentary

Peter Goldring

The Night I Was Arrested

I have been a lawmaker. I’ve worked in law enforcement. But no experience prepared me for the night I was arrested. The world looks different when you are at the end of the spear. In the long years since I have often asked myself: How many other Canadians have been in this position?

My advice is simple. If you are pulled over by police, get out your cellphone. Make some kind of audiovisual recording of what is happening. This will prove helpful later, as you’ll see.

On December 4, 2011 I attended a constituency Christmas party and had one glass of wine with a meal, at 7 pm. By the close of the evening it was midnight and cold, -18. I started my Ford and found frost built up inside the windshield. While the vehicle warmed up, I ducked into Jox Sports Bar & Grill and had one beer. I had been talking all evening and was thirsty.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving state on their website that if you have a drink after work, even two, you’ll be okay. Wrong, as you can see in the following.

I was neither impaired nor emotional nor belligerent. As I drove from the parking lot I encountered a patrol car parked in the dark waiting for me. Edmonton Police launched their annual Checkstop campaign three days before.  Police in my hometown make many arrests for impaired driving, a total 2,190 the year before. The rate of arrests in Edmonton is 66 percent higher than in Calgary.

“Have you been drinking?” the constable asked. He already had a Breathalyzer machine in his hand, the IntoxilyzerPA 400D. I’d just had one beer, I replied.

Police in Canada have enforced a 0.08 blood alcohol level as measured by scientific instrument since 1969 yet the science is inexact.  In 2015 the Department of Justice banned the use of three manual Breathalyzer models as susceptible to “human error” including machines used by police in New Brunswick. The Supreme Court has noted “the possibility of an instrument malfunctioning or being used improperly when breath samples are taken is not merely speculative, but is very real.”

Machines may show a false reading on mouthwash. Diabetics with acetone on their breath can mistakenly blow a positive reading for drunkenness. Even the presence of airborne chemicals like cleaners can distort readings.

These are not technicalities or legal loopholes. This is evidence that determines truth. I served three years with RCAF military police in Trenton, Ont., and understand the presumption of innocence.

To avoid false readings, to determine the truth, the manufacturer of the IntoxilyzerPA 400D recommends police follow proper procedure in waiting 15 to 20 minutes before testing blood alcohol level on someone who’s just had one drink, like me. This is to avoid a false reading. The fact I obtained a factory manual is noteworthy. Most police forces do not permit independent testing of their machines for accuracy, precision or reliability. The IntoxilyzerPA 400D is a box that convicts people.

In my case the constable insisted on a test right away and told me I was under arrest when I asked to see legal counsel. His demeanour was abrupt and confrontational. This was a very officious young policeman. When I provided my driver’s license and he asked what I did for a living – Member of Parliament, I replied – the exchange was later presented at trial as some attempt on my part to influence police.

I was not drunk. I was not abusive. I did not resist arrest. I was handcuffed, charged with refusing a Breathalyzer test and pleaded not guilty. I left caucus to help insulate my colleagues from the incident.

I have since received hundreds of vile emails and letters, often with profanity. One Edmonton newspaper even depicted me as a notorious criminal, equating my act to four multiple murders that year. The Calgary Herald reported falsely that I was arrested on “drunk driving charges.”

Wouldn’t it have been easier to pay my $1,000 fine and publicly apologize? The thought crossed my mind many times, but only for a moment. Then I asked, is that who I am? Would I choose expediency over truth?

Edmonton Police wanted to paint a picture of me. It was an easy picture to paint: a drunk politician. But it was not the truth.

(Editor’s note: the author is former six-term Conservative MP for Edmonton East. On June 6, 2013 Mr. Goldring was acquitted of the charge that he failed to provide police a breath sample. Mr. Goldring’s commentary was first published December 7, 2014)

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