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What’s the Difference Between DUI and DWI in Canada?

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3 months ago

If someone were to ask you if you’d ever had a DUI — or “dewey,” as some people refer to them — you’d probably know they were asking if you’d ever been arrested or convicted for impaired driving. You also likely know that DWI also stands for an impaired driving arrest or conviction. More specifically, DUI stands for “driving under the influence” (of alcohol and/or drugs), and DWI is used for both “driving while impaired” and “driving while intoxicated.”

However, you might be surprised to learn that neither acronym carries any legal bearing under Canadian law. Instead, the related charges under the Canadian Criminal Code fall under the term “impaired driving,” which would take an “ID” acronym if one were used. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find either acronym or their distinct sequenced words within the Criminal Code or supplementary Ontario Ministry of Transportation impaired driving statutes.

This then begs the question of why just about everyone in Canada — including the criminal defence DUI lawyers at Mass Tsang — calls an impaired driving arrest and/or conviction a DUI. In a similar vein, you might also wonder why Canadians never really adopted “DWI” despite its closer connection with our current “impaired driving” legal vernacular. With over 30 years of expertise with, ahem, DUI law in the Greater Toronto Area, our defence lawyers can shed some light on the subject.

“DUI” Seems to Be an American Import

First, you should know that “driving under the influence” (DUI) has never been used in Canada’s Criminal Code. Instead, the Code’s first listed offence for drinking and driving was referred to as “driving while intoxicated,” which legislators enacted in 1921 as a summary conviction offence that carried a minimum penalty of seven days in jail with a conviction. At the time, courts interpreted intoxication to mean significant inebriation rather than being under the “influence” of alcohol. The Code was amended in 1925 to cover intoxication by a narcotic.

To the best of our knowledge, “DWI” was never widely adopted as an acronym for the driving while intoxicated law. Instead, it seems Canadians just called it drunk driving or, in recent years, “DUI.” Over the ensuing decades, amendments to the original law changed the “intoxicated” in the DWI terminology to “impaired,” yet we still don’t often hear Canadians use “DWI” to describe impaired driving charges.

When the fifty states below us started enacting impaired driving laws early in the 20th century, the majority adopted the “driving under the influence” terminology, which gave rise to the DUI acronym. Interestingly, while many states with DUI-based wording in their laws made amendments in the 1980s that changed the language to driving while impaired, DUI retains its widespread use in the U.S. vernacular. And was apparently adopted by the Canadian public, despite its absence in codified law.

Technical Differences Between DUI and DWI

Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be differences between DUI and DWI, especially when the “I” in DWI stands for “impaired” rather than “intoxicated.” Some states delineate the two by using DUI to reference alcohol intoxication and DWI for drug-impaired driving. Some states also use the terms to differentiate between impaired driving charges based solely on blood alcohol concentrations and those based on physical evidence.

The bottom line in Canada is that you can call an impaired driving charge whatever you like, whether DUI, DWI, drunk driving, drugged driving, or something else. Whatever you call it, though, the end result will be painful if you’re convicted.

How the Court Will Term Your DUI

If you’re arrested for DUI in Ontario — and yes, we’re going to still call it that because everyone else does — you will be officially charged with one or more of the following Part VIII Section 320 Criminal Code offences:

  • Over 80-plus mgs — based on a breathalyzer reading of alcohol to blood concentrations exceeding 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.
  • Impaired driving — based on physical evidence and observations by police that drugs or alcohol impaired your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
  • Refusing to provide a breath sample — based on your refusal to provide a readable roadside or breathalyzer sample.
  • Care and control — based on police determination that even though you were not witnessed driving while impaired, you were in a position within the vehicle in which you could have put it into motion while impaired.
  • Underage impaired driving — any level of potential impairment if you’re under 21, whether as witnessed by police or proven by a breath sample.
  • Zero tolerance impaired driving — if you have a G1, G2, M1, or M2 license or drive a vehicle that requires an A-F license or commercial vehicle operator’s registration, you can be charged with impaired driving for any detectable concentration of alcohol or drugs.
  • Impaired driving by drugs — based on a 12-step drug recognition expert (DRE) evaluation , approved roadside drug screening equipment (ADSE), blood sampling, or a combination of these. For cannabis, more than five nanograms of THC per ml of blood or a combination of 2.5 nanograms or more of TCH per ml of blood with 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood is a criminal impaired driving offence.

What These Charges Mean if You’re Convicted

If you’re convicted of any of the above-referenced impaired driving charges, you face at a minimum:

  • Driver’s license suspension for up to a year.
  • Mandatory attendance in Ontario's “ Back on Track " education/treatment program.
  • Post-license reinstatement requirement to use an ignition interlock device.
  • Mandatory medical evaluation for license reinstatement
  • Extensive fines and administrative fees.
  • Large hikes in your insurance premiums.
  • A permanent criminal record.

Subsequent DUI convictions and/or aggravating circumstances relating to the offence result in significantly harsher penalties. If your impaired driving charges arose from an accident that caused injuries or death, you will likely be sentenced to prison.

Whatever You Want to Call It, Contact Toronto’s Mass Tsang for Your DUI Defence

If you’re arrested for DUI-related charges in the Greater Toronto Area, you need the legal skills of experienced criminal defence DUI lawyers to help avoid the severe penalties that come with a conviction. Mass Tsang criminal defence lawyers have a decades-long track record of developing winning impaired driving defence strategies for their clients. Schedule your free consultation by contacting Mass Tsang Today.

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