One of the main accusations my fellow impaired driving lawyers and I receive is that we keep drunk drivers on the roads and that somehow the justice system would be better off if we didn’t exist.
Every now and again, something comes along that reminds us why we do what we do – why we stand up for people facing drink driving charges. An Orwellian nightmare come to life put into this into particular perspective for me this week.
According an article by VICE News, police in Burlington, Ontario, have created a scheme that rewards fast-food drive-thru employees for informing on customers they suspect are driving drunk.
Tim Horton’s, Dairy Queen, Wendy’s, A&W, Burger King, Arby’s, Harvey’s, KFC, Swiss Chalet and McDonald’s franchises were said to have been approached for the scheme and staff at 38 fast-food restaurants in the city have already been trained by police on how to identify drivers suspected of being over the limit.
To aid them in their secret mission, police supplied a poster of emoji faces showing things to look out for, such as slurred speech or bloodshot eyes, in order to help them decide when to report someone – because, you know, emojis are fun and this is a laughing matter 🙄.
This initiative may seem harmless but it is totally wrong. Pure and simple.
Program materials issued by police to the employees and obtained by VICE News via a Freedom of Information Request reportedly stated: ““Even if you aren’t sure, call [police]. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
This raises the serious issue of accountability, or rather lack thereof. A drunk driving charge is serious. Even if you are found innocent has the potential to ruin your life and simply being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving can be hugely stigmatizing. It is not something fast-food workers, many of whom are teenagers and unaware of the severity of what they are doing, should play a formal part in.
Police train extensively to be able to detect signs of drink driving but it takes years of experience before they are able to identify a suspect objectively. I fail to see how recruiting inexperienced workers who interact for maybe 20 seconds with someone through a window is going to improve things in any way.
With apparently not even the slightest repercussion for the potential harm caused by false accusations or increased intrusion customers’ lives, the scheme is open to repeated abuse.
The cherry on the cake – or the icing on the donut, depending on where your fast-food allegiances lie – is that workers receive an iTunes gift card for every tip that leads to an arrest. The idea of rewarding people in this way shows how tone-deaf the brains behind this scheme really are. Recruiting ordinary people to invade others’ privacy and giving them an incentive to do so is not only cynical, it’s unethical. If I were one of those employees I would be horrified at what I was being told to do.
Last week, I used my blog to comment on the issue of street checks by the Vancouver Police Department disproportionately involving Indigenous and Black Canadians. So even if police, who we are told do not target certain ethnic groups for carding more than others, what is there to prevent racial biases playing a part in this scheme?
At the heart of this issue is that ordinary, law-abiding citizens can no longer enjoy the simple freedom of going to a drive-thru without being spied on by police.
I became a lawyer partly to protect people from unnecessary intrusion into their lives by agents of the state. The right of all Canadians to a reasonable expectation of privacy is protected under the Charter. When something like this happens, it might not seem like much, it might even seem like a good idea to some people, but in reality it represents an attempt to erode one of the founding principles of our country.
Vancouver Criminal Lawyer with a focus on impaired driving, cannabis legalization and related issues, and immediate roadside prohibition defence.