Can the Police Publish The Name of a Drunk Driver Online?

Recently, the York Regional Police Force started publishing online the names of people charged with impaired driving. The intention is obvious: to shame people accused of driving drunk in the hopes that it will deter others.

But the people charged are, in the eyes of the law, presumed to be innocent — and according to some, publicly humiliating someone as part of the justice system is foreign to modern-day Canada.

There is also a debate over what, if any, evidence exists that these efforts actually reduce crime. Recently in the Toronto Star, there were two opposing opinions on this hot-button issue.

Andrew Murie (CEO of MADD) argues for the practice. His position is that any action law enforcement can take that will help to prevent people from driving under the influence is a good thing, and he sees the publication of these names as an example of strong leadership. He claims that public support for the practice is high, and police have been publicly naming individuals charged with drunk driving for 20 years now – though he doesn’t specify where this is taking place.

In Durham, this practice has been ongoing for 10 years. In a December 3rd article published by CBC, Durham police spokesperson Dave Selby says it’s had an impact. “Yes, we believe it is a deterrent — anecdotally we have been told by drivers they deliberately do not drink and drive because they don’t want their names out there. We also have stories about neighbours reading the name and calling us when they see their neighbour get behind the wheel when intoxicated. This has led to arrests.”

It seems that naming names turns the public into an automated surveillance system.

Michael Bryant, from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, disagrees that this is a desirable thing. In Canada, we are innocent until proven guilty, and Mr. Bryant compares posting the names of those charged to the old way of nailing people to a pillory. Public shaming has no place in our society, he says, and he points out that people charged have not been proven guilty, but they will suffer public embarrassment, suspended licenses, fines — and many will lose their jobs. It’s slander, he claims. “Either police have the forensic evidence or they don’t.”

Mr. Bryant points out that there’s no evidence that naming and shaming really does work to deter people from committing this crime. Even MADD’s website agrees on this point. “There has been no research on this naming, shaming type of (strategy) . . . so I can’t sit here and say — as much as I support what police are doing and understand why they are doing — I can’t guarantee it will work,” says Andrew Murie. (London Free Press, December 2018)

The Canadian justice system gives no guarantee of privacy for those charged with crimes, and whether the process should be used or not, it does serve to keep the conversation about driving while impaired at the front of people’s minds. Read both articles, and make up your own mind. And as always, some very important parting words:

Firstly, this holiday season, don’t drink and drive. We are lucky to live in a society with a variety of options. Call Uber, a taxi, or make alternate arrangements.

Secondly, if you do happen to get charged, call a lawyer with experience in these types of cases.

To ask David Anber or another lawyer at the firm a question about these subjects, contact us for a free consultation.

David Anber

David Anber

David Anber has been a trailblazing legal practitioner since 2006. His early entry into law practice during his studies marked the beginning of a distinguished career. As a member of both Ontario and Quebec’s bar associations, David excels in defending traffic and criminal cases across both provinces. David contributes to legal discourse through articles for the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa and the Criminal Lawyer’s Association of Ontario.