Hargrave looks to clamp down on early release loophole

A wrecked vehicle sits in Prince Albert’s Municipal Impound Lot located in the north end of the city. -- Herald file photo.

Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave says he’s committed to bringing legislation forward within the next two months to close a loophole in the province’s impaired driving laws.

Under provincial law, any driver caught with a blood alcohol content level over the legal limit can have their vehicle impounded for 30-60 days depending on the severity of the offence. However, communities like Prince Albert have raised concerns that too many offenders were getting their vehicles out after two to three days instead of 30 or 60.

Hargrave said he’s preparing to close the loophole this legislative session, with new laws that will make it tougher for vehicle owners to get their cars back after they’ve been impounded.

“I would expect it to be this session,” Hargrave said during an interview on Monday. “We’re looking towards June 1, so I’m optimistic that we’ll have something ready to go that we can introduce in the near future.”

Under provincial law, the Highway Traffic Board can grant early releases to vehicle owners who can prove they were not a party to the original offence, or that they need their vehicles for things like medical appointments.

Although only 12 per cent of all vehicles impounded in 2017 were released early, the appeals success rate was staggeringly high. Of the 1,113 Highway Traffic Board hearings through the first 11 months of 2017, 912 were successful, meaning the applicant got their vehicle back early.

Not all of those 1,113 appeals were for vehicles seized from impaired drivers, but the number was high enough to convince Hargrave to take a second look.

“We’re looking into the data surrounding that because there are early releases, and then there are early releases related to impaired driving,” said Hargrave, who also serves as the Minister of Crown Investments and Minister responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance.

“We want to make sure the early releases are for a real good cause, and not just because.”

The province’s main concern is making sure the appropriate people bear the burden of living without their vehicles. Hargrave said there should be some leeway in certain cases, such as those involving rental companies who have their cars impounded due to the actions of their customers. However, he added that discussions with municipal leaders have shown there is still a strong appetite for change.

“They were sharing some stories that, in their opinion, some people were getting their car back too soon … and that shouldn’t be the case if it’s impounded for impaired driving,” he said.

The City of Prince Albert was the first to raise questions about the appeals loophole after starting their own Municipal Impound Lot. City officials became concerned after some impounded vehicles were being released as early as three or four days after being seized.

In the first three weeks of operation, five of the 57 vehicles stored in the city impound where released upon appeal to the Highway Traffic Board. Three of those five were seized for impaired driving.

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca