An admission that the machine used by Port Moody police in more than a dozen drinking and driving cases in 2011 was invalid could cost city taxpayers big time.
On Thursday, Port Moody police issued the results of an independent investigation looking into the calibration of the department's breathalyzers, which determined 14 of the 174 immediate roadside prohibitions (IRPs) handed out that year were done so using an invalid device.
As a result, a lawyer representing a handful of people who received driving bans from the force during that time period expects the lawsuits to fly.
Vancouver lawyer Paul Doroshenko said the affected drivers should get an immediate apology, along with compensation for out-of-pocket expenses directly related to the driving ban. He also suggested it's the department and ultimately the city that's on the hook for the expense.
He estimated each of the 14 drivers could be in line to receive up to $30,000 in compensation to cover items like lost wages from the ban.
He noted one client lost her job and then her house as a result of the ban.
He said his clients are now considering what legal route they want to take, whether it is through a class-action lawsuit or individual cases.
The issue of problems with the approved screening devices surfaced in October 2011, after media outlets suggested there was a flaw in the department's "process for calibrating approved screening devices." At the time, the department said it was treating the allegations seriously and called in the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (OPCC) and an outside agency to conduct an investigation.
A year later, the OPCC determined the force's breathalyzers were incorrectly calibrated and the allegations of neglect of duty against the officer who used them were substantiated. As a result, the officer involved received a verbal reprimand, a measure the OPCC found acceptable.
For its part, the police department said it has learned some "pretty hard lessons" about policies and protocols, and insisted the issues around the breathalyzers have been solved.
"We are incredibly sorry for the inconveniences caused to the affected drivers and for the concerns that this matter caused with the public," said Port Moody police spokesman Const. Luke Van Winkel, adding the department switched the people responsible for the machines, updated training and protocols, and put in fail safes to ensure such a situation won't happen again.
"We do take drinking and driving very seriously and we're really pleased that 160 drunk drivers were taken off the streets of Port Moody in 2011," Van Winkel added.
According to a statement to The NOW on behalf of the province's Superintendent of Motor Vehicles Steve Martin, the office is working to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.
"The OSMV (Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles) has reviewed each file and will be contacting the 14 affected drivers cancelling their immediate roadside prohibitions and penalties," the statement said.
"We will also be working with Port Moody police on the issue of restitution for drivers."
The statement went on to read: "Police need to follow the standards and expectations around [breathalyzer] calibration. The ministry's director of police services has written to police agencies to remind them about their responsibility to ensure they adhere to protocols and standards.
"Moving forward, we can tell you that standardized forms are now in place across B.C., with ongoing police monitoring and feedback to the respective police agencies to ensure accurate, complete documentation. Clearly a police processing error was made. That said, we are not easing off our commitment to remove impaired drivers from our roads."
The statement did not offer details on what kind of restitution would be considered.