US & Canada

Canada MPs to loosen penalties for drunks in kayaks

A young woman canoeing on beautiful mountain lake in Canada Image copyright swissmediavision
Image caption Canadians have a passion for recreational boating

In Canada, you may soon be able to paddle a canoe while cracking open a cold one.

Kayaking while drunk is currently subject to tough punishments which means offenders can lose their driving licences or get driving bans.

Now, parliamentarians are weighing legislation that would exclude any vessel "propelled exclusively by means of muscular power".

Drinking while flying a hovercraft would remain an offence.

Under the current criminal code, operating a vessel while impaired by drugs or alcohol is illegal, but the law does not define the term "vessel".

The proposed changes add a definition to include hovercrafts but not vessels "propelled exclusively by means of muscular power" - human-powered boats like canoes, kayaks, paddleboats and rowing boats.

Boating is a popular summer activity and about 12.4m Canadians go recreational boating each year.

Police do give fines for impaired boating and often bolster their presence on the water on busy summer weekends.

People caught face potential fines, losing their driver's licence and even imprisonment.

In 2011, a 57-year-old man made news after being arrested in Ontario for paddling a boat while impaired.

The National Post, which first reported on the legal changes, raised the case of an Ontario man who tipped a canoe, sending an eight-year old passenger into the water.

He was swept over a nearby waterfall and died. The man was allegedly drunk and goes on trial this year.

An estimated 40% of the boating-related accidents in Canada involve alcohol consumption as a factor.

The Canadian Safe Boating Council opposes the legislative changes and told MPs studying the bill that, between 1991 and 2010, alcohol was either the cause or suspected cause in 375 deaths in human-powered boats in Canada.

Canada's Liberal government tabled the new impaired driving legislation mainly to deal with the use of drugs while driving.

The country is expected to legalise recreational marijuana next summer.

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