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Understanding Ontario’s Open Container Laws

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Pretty much every Canadian knows that impaired driving is dangerous and can lead to severe penalties if you are arrested and convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs.

You know that, right? If not, we suggest you learn a bit about the dangers of impaired driving and what might happen to you if you are arrested for DUI.

What many Canadians do not fully understand are the legalities of consuming or transporting alcohol in their vehicles. In fact, in Ontario, taking a “roadie" is an all-too-common practice when younger folks are heading out for a night of partying. Because designated driving has also become common, most drivers refrain from roadies, as that could defeat the “designated driver" purpose. However, the question of what's the harm if the passengers drink seems to be a widely held sentiment in the province.

Ontario Open Container Laws Are Extensive

Well, the harm comes in the form of a costly citation because Ontario has strict laws regarding the consumption and transportation of alcohol in vehicles, no matter who's doing the consuming or transporting. These laws are included in the Liquor License and Control Act of 2019, which provides for more than 116 separate alcohol-related offences. And trust us, the powers that be in Ontario do not want you or your passengers to have any access to alcohol while in a vehicle—moving or otherwise.

Language in 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."

Without the ensuing Section 41 (2) that declares that this “does not apply to a person in possession of liquor that is in a closed container," you would not be able to have any alcohol in a vehicle lawfully. Sections 42 and 43 include further restrictions on conveying alcohol in motor vehicles and boats. Interestingly, these sections somewhat contradict the closed container concept. They state that any alcohol being conveyed must be “in a container that is unopened and the seal unbroken" or “packed in baggage that is fastened closed or not otherwise readily available to any person in the vehicle." With boats, alcohol “stored in a closed compartment" is the unopened and seal unbroken option.

To sum this up, if there is alcohol in the vehicle in an open container with a broken seal or that is not properly stored or not otherwise readily available, the driver is breaking the law and will likely be issued a ticket. That opened or easily accessible alcohol in the vehicle will also make police interested in the driver's potential impairment. If nothing else, this will result in the aggravation of roadside screening and additional questioning.

Language in the regulations covers operating the vehicle and having “care or control" over it and applies whether the vehicle is in motion or stationary. This means the driver does not have to be driving to be charged with an open container offence.

So, the Open Container Laws Only Penalize the Driver?

At this juncture, you might think that Ontario's open container laws only apply to the driver. Indeed, the driver is always liable for a citation if an open container, as defined by the regulations, is found in a vehicle. However, the language in the aforementioned Section 41 (1) can be used to ticket the passengers if opened alcohol in the vehicle can be distinctly linked to them. Thus, if you're caught with an open can of Moosehead beer while riding shotgun with your buddy, it will probably cost you $100 and your friend $175.

Open Container Fines in Ontario Are Variable

While that $100 fine for a passenger's open container is standard, The Ontario Court of Justice's Schedule 61 set of fines for violating the Liquor License and Control Act provides some variations for the driver. Of the 116 violations subject to fines, 21 specifically target drivers for open container violations.

The primary offence, Number 81, “Driving motor vehicle with open container of liquor," will set the driver back $175, as will most of the other 20 variations of this theme. For some unknown reason, some of these variations will only result in a $150. Let's look at the rest of them:

  • 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.

What'd ya think? Did our legislators miss anything? See any loopholes? And what's with the variation in fines?

Turn to TorontoDUI for Your DUI Defence

While it's probably not worth turning to the criminal defence lawyers of TorontoDUI to see if they can find a loophole that can get you off an open container law fine, we do stand ready to help defend you against DUI charges. With one of the Greater Toronto Area's best records for successfully resolving DUI cases, contact TorontoDUI for your free initial consultation.

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