Nunatsiaq News
COMMENTARY: Nunavut December 21, 2016 - 1:10 pm

Legal Ease, Dec. 21

The dangers of holiday drinking


It’s nearly Christmas and it’s a time for parties and happy times with friends and family. Every year Christmas brings joy and spiritual renewal but also, sadly, problems.

Unfortunately, it’s also a time when people tend to overindulge and drink too much. And when people drink too much they sometimes do very foolish things.

Having parties with drinking raises some legal issues—all of which are easy to deal with if you plan ahead.

If you are drinking yourself, you have a responsibility to make sure you do not do anything stupid.

If you know drinking makes you mean and violent you shouldn’t drink at parties at all. If you must drink, stay home by yourself. Getting charged with assault or worse—hurting someone you love—is not a good way to spend the holidays.

Beyond that, if you can otherwise handle your liquor you have to think about drinking and driving.

The obvious point being if you are going to be drinking you should not drive. Don’t say “I’ll only have one” and then decide you are fit to drive.

The alcohol limit for operating a motor vehicle is quite low and even a single drink can take you to the legal limit depending on your weight and size. Regardless, winter driving is often more challenging that driving in the summer and you need all your wits about you.

One point that people sometimes forget is that driving any motor vehicle is not allowed if you are intoxicated.

That means more than just cars; it includes snow machines, motorcycles, boats and pretty well any powered means of transport. I once had an impaired case from a man who was very drunk and riding a lawnmower.

Bottom line, plan ahead and get a ride, grab a taxi or stay the night but don’t drink and drive.

What if you are already at home and having a party—you are not going to drink and drive. Do you have any legal responsibility?

The short answer is you do—you have to take reasonable steps to make sure your guests get home safe and don’t hurt anyone else because they are drunk.

This means that you must take reasonable steps to stop people who have been drinking from driving. Offer to let them sleep on the chesterfield. Give them cab fare home. If you are quite sober, drive them home yourself. If necessary, take away their car keys.

You will be helping your friends avoid a criminal charge, but more important making sure they don’t get themselves or someone else killed in an accident.

Beyond stopping people from driving you should also make sure they will get home safe even if they are not driving. Someone who is intoxicated might wander out into the road and get hit by a car.

Or they might stumble and fall and freeze to death. This is Canada and it is the winter. You need to make sure they will get home in one piece or let them spend the night.

All these things seem to be less than holiday spirited—but in fact they are the height of Christmas spirit. All the law asks is that you look after yourself and be a good host and protect your guests. It’s just common sense.

James Morton is a lawyer practicing in Nunavut with offices in Iqaluit. The comments here are intended as general legal information and not as specific legal advice.


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