What is the Legal Blood Alcohol Limit in Canada?

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What is the Legal Blood Alcohol Limit in Canada?

Legal Blood Alcohol Limit in Canada

Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada. Canada has stringent penalties for impaired driving. One of the critical factors in any criminal impaired driving charge is the BAC or blood alcohol concentration.

This article will explore what is the legal blood alcohol limit in Canada.

What is BAC?

BAC stands for Blood Alcohol Concentration, which refers to the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. The more you drink, the higher your BAC will be. It can be influenced by various factors, such as your size, weight, gender, whether you’ve eaten or even how tired you are.

What is the Legal Blood Alcohol Limit in Canada?

Section 253(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada sets the maximum legal blood alcohol concentration for fully licenced drivers (individuals that have obtained their “G” class licence) as 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or 0.08.

It is important to note that you can also be charged below this maximum level, in what is called the “warn range,” which is between 0.05 and 0.079.

There are some instances where there is a zero-tolerance policy, meaning that you cannot have any alcohol or drugs in your system if you are:

  • Under the age of 21
  • Have a G1, G2, M1 or M2 licence
  • Drive a vehicle that requires an A-F driver’s licence or a Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration or
  • Drive a road-building machine

Can BAC Vary?

There is no correct way of predicting one’s BAC because many factors can influence the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. You cannot predict how many drinks you can consume before reaching or exceeding the legal BAC limit. While having food in your stomach will not stop you from getting drunk, it slows down the rate at which alcohol gets absorbed into your bloodstream. At the same time, it will also keep the alcohol in your body for longer.

Many factors can affect your BAC, including:

  • whether you’re male or female
  • if you are drinking on an empty stomach
  • if you are drinking quickly
  • your metabolic rate (affected by diet, digestion, fitness, emotional state, hormonal cycle, time of day, year, etc.).
  • if you are tired – this will affect your concentration and absorption
  • your weight
  • the percentage of alcohol in the drink
  • the type of alcohol you are drinking (fizzy drinks are absorbed more quickly)
  • the container size (you may think you have one drink, but how many units are you having?)

It is also important to note that using stimulants like caffeine will not affect your BAC. It only masks the effect of alcohol, making you feel more sober than you are.

Legal and Administrative BAC Limits

The Criminal Code of Canada sets the BAC limit at 0.08%. At or over this limit, criminal impaired driving charges can be laid. But this does not mean that your driving abilities may not be impaired if you are below this limit.

While drivers with a BAC level between 0.05 and 0.079 will not face criminal impaired driving charges, they still are subject to licence suspensions and other penalties, which can escalate with repeat infractions, such as vehicle impoundments, alcohol ignition interlocks or remedial program requirements.

As mentioned above, young drivers have a .00% BAC requirement.

Calculating BACs

Social drinking, such as a beer after work or a glass of wine with dinner, may not put most people over the 0.05% BAC level. However, this does not mean that you are not impaired. The factors mentioned above can strongly influence the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream, so the safest way is to refrain from driving entirely if you are drinking.

Canada’s Blood Alcohol Laws Among the Strictest in the Western World

A study conducted by the Canada Safety Council has shown that Canada’s blood alcohol laws are among the strictest in the Western world. The study has examined 20 comparable countries, and 16 have a BAC of 0.05 or lower, but this does not mean that Canada is making it easier for people to drive impaired.

The study, updated in 2006, concluded that if the legal BAC limit in Canada were reduced to 0.05, Canada could have harsher penalties for blood alcohol offences than any other comparative country.

In the past few years, the mandatory minimum fine for a first offence has increased from $600 to $1,000, and the maximum prison term for a summary conviction from six to 18 months. For a second or subsequent offence, the mandatory minimum prison term increased from 14 and 90 days to 30 and 120 days, respectively. The study also compared the penalties imposed at 0.08 for a first offence:

  • Together with Germany, Canada has the longest maximum prison sentence with five years. Beyond that, some American jurisdictions have two years; at 0.10, Sweden imposes a maximum prison sentence of one year.
  • The $1,000 mandatory minimum fine in Canada is higher than in all European countries other than France and close to most American jurisdictions.
  • Canada’s one-year minimum prison sentence is closer to the maximum disqualification period in other jurisdictions.

So, looking at these facts, Canada imposes stricter penalties on impaired drivers than most Western countries.

New Alcohol-Impaired Driving Laws

There are some myths surrounding the new alcohol-impaired driving laws from 2018, with facts dispelling them. The Department of Justice has issued the following information:

Myth: Mandatory alcohol screening permits police to demand a breath sample from people in their homes or bars.

Fact: Mandatory alcohol screening can only be used if you, as the driver, are in care and control of the vehicle, have been lawfully stopped, and if the police officer has the approved screening device at hand.

Myth: Police cannot stop you while driving unless you have done something wrong.

Fact: Police have long had the power to stop drivers to check to see if they have a valid licence, if they are sober, and if their vehicle is roadworthy. They don’t need to see you do anything wrong.

Myth: Police can use mandatory alcohol screening to come to your house two hours after you arrive home and demand a breath sample.

Fact: For mandatory alcohol screening to be used:

  • The car must be lawfully stopped
  • You, as the driver, must be in care and control of the vehicle
  • The police officer must have the device at hand

Myth: You can beat an “over 80 mg” charge if you have several drinks right before driving because the alcohol didn’t affect you until after you drove.

Fact: The new law covers this situation and you can be convicted if you have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or over 80 mg within two hours of driving. This change was made to address this type of risky and dangerous behaviour on our roads.

Myth: You can beat a charge of “over 80 mg” if you drink after being stopped by the police.

Fact: This defence now only applies if:

  • A driver drank after driving
  • There was no reason to think they would need to provide a sample (e.g., they were not involved in an accident)
  • The breath results indicate they were under a blood alcohol concentration of 80 mg while driving

Myth: If you are under 80 mg of blood alcohol concentration, you are safe to drive.

Fact: Many individuals are impaired long before they reach a blood alcohol concentration of 80 mg. You can still be charged with impaired driving, and you may face serious consequences, like being convicted of a criminal offence, jail, fine and/or losing your licence.


Farjoud Law has an outstanding track record defending clients charged with all types of criminal offences. We are dedicated to professionalism, client services and passionate advocacy. If you or a loved one have been charged with a criminal offence, do not hesitate to call Farjoud Law at 647-606-6776 to speak directly to a criminal defence lawyer who personally answers all calls 24 hours/day – 7 days/week or fill out our convenient online form.

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