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Can You Drink Alcohol in a Parked Car in Ontario

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Earlier this month, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and emergency services responded to a single-car rollover crash that was allegedly caused by a deer on the road that disrupted the driver’s attempt to multitask. According to police, the driver and a passenger were trying to have sexual intercourse when the driver had to swerve to avoid the wayward deer, causing the car to hit a tree before rolling over in a ditch.

The 20-year-old driver was charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and being a novice driver with a blood alcohol concentration above zero. While police smelled the odour of alcohol on the driver’s breath, they did not find any alcohol containers in the vehicle.

For whatever reason — perhaps because we at TorontoDUI are so focused on alcohol in relation to cars — this story seems incomplete. To be truly considered a case of multitasking, shouldn’t the driver have had a beer in hand? Of course, maybe he was able to ditch the evidence before the police arrived.

In imagining the scenario, we can picture the driver with a beer in hand. However, our sober — as defined by being “straightforward and serious” — mental visualization of the incident places the couple in a parked car underneath the boughs of a tree. This negates any problems caused by the deer.

However, we suppose that the couple could face public nudity charges if an OPP officer decided to stop and investigate what that couple might have been doing under that tree. And, because we’re visualizing the scenario with an opened beer or two in the car’s cupholders, the officer might decide to lay charges based on Ontario’s open container laws.

This, of course, begs the legal question of whether you can drink alcohol in a parked car in Ontario?

The short answer is “No!”

The longer answer is “…and it’s going to cost you if the police catch you.” However, let’s take a closer look at the issue to determine whether any loopholes in Ontario’s laws might let you legally consume alcohol in your car, parked or otherwise.

First Things First

You now know that you cannot drink alcohol in your car, parked or otherwise. However, that might be the least of your troubles should police find an open can of beer or other alcohol container in your car. Empty containers are also likely causes of trouble, as police will assume that the driver may have been nipping from a “roadie” or two.

With any sign of alcohol in your vehicle, police will be far more interested in determining whether you have been driving impaired than they are in hitting you with a $100-plus fine for having an open container in the car. And if they do have cause to arrest you for any driving under the influence (DUI) charges, it’s probably time for a little tutorial on what this might mean for your future.

Perhaps more importantly, should you have been drinking in your vehicle without driving it during your consumption or any intention to operating it, you are still subject to DUI based on having “care and control” of the vehicle. DUIs based on care and control carry the same severe penalties as a DUI based on a breathalyzer. Because the police do not have to actually prove that you were driving while impaired, the evidentiary threshold to secure a conviction can be lower than it is for other types of DUI. Signs of impairment, the police finding you in the vehicle with open alcohol containers, and your apparent ability to put the car in motion is often enough grounds for the Crown to secure a care and control DUI conviction.

Now, About You Drinking in a Parked Car in Ontario

As previously noted, if you want to drink in a parked car in Ontario, you will pay for it if caught by the police. With more than 116 separate alcohol-related offences included in Ontario’s Liquor License and Control Act, our provincial regulators are determined to restrict the access of alcohol to anyone in a vehicle.

Section 41 (1) of the Act states that “no person shall have or consume liquor in any place other than:

  1. a residence;
  2. premises in respect of which a license or permit that permits consumption is issued;
  3. a private place as described by the regulations; or
  4. …a public place designated by a by-law made by the council of a municipality.”

If not for Section 41 (2) which allows possession of alcohol in a “closed container,” you wouldn’t be allowed to have alcohol with you anywhere but the referenced places in the Act. Sections 42 and 43 enable you to possess and convey alcohol in motor vehicles and boats, but only if the containers are sealed and unopened.

While this seems cut and dry, we will point out one potential loophole. That is, can the long arm of the law reach out to sanction you if you have open alcohol in your vehicle while parked on your private property? Section 41 (1) references “a private place as described by the regulations,” but we don’t believe private property driveways are mentioned in them. While we don’t believe police have the right to cite you for an open container while parked in your own driveway, to the best of our knowledge, this has not been tested in court to the extent that it has created legal precedents in the law.

How Much That Open Container is Going to Cost You

Schedule 61 of The Ontario Court of Justice’s lists 21 Liquor License and Control Act fines relating to open container violations.

  • 81. “Driving motor vehicle with open container of liquor” — $175.
  • 82. “Having care or control of a motor vehicle with open container of liquor” — $175.
  • 83. “Driving motor vehicle with unsealed container of liquor” — $175.
  • 84. “Having care or control of a motor vehicle with unsealed container of liquor” — $175.
  • 85. “Driving motorized snow vehicle with open container of liquor” — $175.
  • 86. “Having care or control of a motorized snow vehicle with open container of liquor” — $175.
  • 87. “Driving motorized snow vehicle with unsealed container of liquor” — $175.
  • 88. “Having care or control of a motorized snow vehicle with unsealed container of liquor” — $175.
  • 89. “Driving motor vehicle with liquor in open baggage” — $150.
  • 90. “Having care or control of motor vehicle with liquor in open baggage” — $150.
  • 91. “Driving motorized snow vehicle with liquor in open baggage” — $150.
  • 92. “Having care or control of motorized snow vehicle with liquor in open baggage” — $150.
  • 93. “Driving motor vehicle with liquor readily available” — $150.
  • 94. “Having care or control of a motor vehicle with liquor readily available” — $150.
  • 95. “Driving motorized snow vehicle with liquor readily available” — $150.
  • 96. “Having care or control of a motorized snow vehicle with liquor readily available” — $150.
  • 97. “Operating boat underway with open container of liquor” — $175.
  • 98. “Having care or control of a boat underway with open container of liquor” — $175.
  • 99. “Operating boat underway with unsealed container of liquor” — $175.
  • 100. “Having care or control of a boat underway with unsealed container of liquor” — $175.
  • 101. “Operating boat underway with liquor not in a closed compartment” — $150.
  • 102. “Having care or control of boat underway with liquor not in a closed compartment” — $150.

The Ontario Liquor Act authorities seem to have covered all the potential open container bases, but perhaps you can find a loophole or two. If so, please let us know, especially if you proved your loophole in court.

If That Open Container Leads to a DUI, Contact Us!

The criminal defence lawyers of TorontoDUI aren’t going to defend you from an open container charge, but we will provide you with expert DUI defence. With an outstanding record for successfully resolving DUI cases in the Toronto Area, contact TorontoDUI for your free initial consultation.

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