First thing to be aware of—being intoxicated in public is not a violation of the Criminal Code of Canada. This means even if you are arrested or detained for public intoxication, it will not appear on your permanent record. Technically speaking, it is a violation of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act.
Though public intoxication is a minor offense, it can still lead to being arrested for a short period and a fine. Police may also use intoxication as an excuse to search your person, and if they find anything incriminating, you can be looking at something much worse than a fine.The question comes down to the wording of the law itself:
- A person who is intoxicated must not remain in a public place.
- A peace officer may arrest, without a warrant, a person who is intoxicated in a public place.
You may notice a glaring issue with this law: it can be defined broadly. Intoxication is not defined anywhere within the Liquor Control and Licensing Act, which means each officer can interpret it in whichever way he/she may see fit. Once it goes to court that interpretation falls to the judge. Some judges have struggled finding a way to interpret it, turning to dictionary definitions in court proceedings.
Generally, if you are not causing anyone duress or being too loud or obnoxious, you will be left alone. However, there have been cases in which the officer has arrested an individual with very little provocation.
In 2012, a man in Vancouver was trying to get home after watching a Whitecaps game. He started the trip home inside a private vehicle, but then was going to complete the trip on a public transit bus. While he was sitting at the bus stop, an officer approached him and began to question him. The encounter resulted in a ticket and the officer having him poor out two open bottles of liquor. When the case went to court, the ticket was ultimately dismissed.
Not all situations end positively. In 2010, a man was walking on the sidewalk in Prince Rupert when he stumbled and almost stepped into the street. A cop noticed and approached the man with the initial intent to arrest him for public drunkenness, and then upon further inspection the man was arrested for marijuana possession.
Most of the time you will be left alone if you are leaving others alone and minding your own business. If not, chances are the ticket can be overturned in court. The danger arises in being found to be in possession of illegal or illicit substances upon being stopped and searched for public intoxication.