Tweeting Check-Stop Locations = Legal or Illegal?

Calgary Sun

It’s easy to talk about freedom of speech, when you’re not the one speaking to a funeral director.

Today, that’s the grim reality for two families — making plans to buy coffins and say goodbye, less than 24 hours after the horror of an alleged drunk-driving wreck scarred their lives.

Two dead 20-year-olds, in what Calgary police say was a high-speed collision involving alcohol and a red light — a light the suspected drunk driver missed, moments before her car slammed into a Mercedes.

The 25-year-old at the wheel lived, while her passenger and the innocent stranger driving the other car were killed.

Two more bodies with booze and driving likely to blame — but that’s not enough to convince those who feel it’s their right to warn drinkers about those trying to catch them.

“It’s freedom of speech. No one can tell me I can’t do something if I feel like doing it and that’s the freedom of the Internet.”

So says Aaron Pratt, one of a handful of social media regulars at the eye of a moral tempest involving drunk driving and the freedom to type whatever you like online.

Since Dec. 15, Pratt has used his Twitter account to post the location of 11 police Check Stops around Calgary, the most recent warning coming Friday night.

“#yyc #checkstop Checkstop bowtrail just past sarcee,” reads the post.

He’s not alone. From a rare smattering of tweets mentioning police breath checks, publishing the location of Check Stops is a growing trend in Calgary. The police don’t like it, but a plea to quit tipping off drunks has fallen on deaf ears.

Now, along with casual posters like Pratt, there are full-time accounts dedicated to avoiding breath checks, giving instant updates on the location of Calgary’s lone Check Stop unit.

Fanning the flames is the province’s imminent plan to crack down on drivers under .08, suspending licences and impounding cars for those not legally drunk.

There are many who feel the new law is unfair — including the owner of handle @calgarychecksto, a Twitter account with 103 followers.

“This is for the .049ers. those who want to be responsible yet would like the odds a little more in their favour.. DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK,” reads the account description.

In a message to the Sun, the owner of the account explained why Check Stop locations should be public.

“I’m doing it for myself and others who would like to venture out for a dinner and drink or two,” wrote the owner.

“Lack of knowledge of what .05 is combined with the consequences of blowing over mean the odds should be a little back on our side as to avoid an unlawful search.”

And so they act as folk heroes — but the information doesn’t just help those who are mildly tipsy.

For severe drunks looking to weave their way home hassle-free, social media is a handy co-pilot.

With drunk driving numbers up and three innocent motorists killed since November, those trying to stop the drunks are outraged, saying those who post are helping criminals avoid justice.

Ald. Shane Keating, who sits on Calgary’s Police Commission, says it may be time for the city’s lawyers to determine if such social media tips might be breaking the law.

“It’s totally unacceptable and I wonder if they are not obstructing justice,” said Keating.

“Maybe it’s something for lawyers to look at, because driving impaired is a criminal offence and they’re interfering with catching criminals.

“I think it’s time to start looking at that a little deeper — and those are maybe questions I need to ask.”

But even if those exposing Check Stops can get away with it legally, there’s many who ask why they do it morally — especially given the bloody consequences of drunk driving.

The owner of handle @calgarychecksto says he is certainly not trying to encourage drunk driving.

“The people who combine high rate of speeds and missed stop signs are dangerous enough, but when you add drunkenness to the equation it almost always can turn deadly,” he wrote.

“That incident hits quite close to home with me and my thoughts and condolences to all those devastated by such a tragedy.”

Pratt says his posts are also aimed at people who are unfairly targeted by the new provincial law — but in any case, he doesn’t feel any guilt from crashes like Sunday’s double fatal.

“I don’t feel responsible. I wasn’t the one driving drunk,” he said.