Bill C-65 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
Irwin Cotler Liberal
Second Reading and Referral to Committee
(This bill did not become law.)
October 2nd, 2006 / 4:25 p.m.
Louis Plamondon Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to BillC-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act on behalf of the Bloc Québécois.
The Bloc Québécois supports the bill, because it considers it to be a step forward. Of course, some changes could have been suggested. We will do that when it gets to committee.
The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of BillC-19, the purpose of which is to impose tougher penalties on people who participate in street racing, in order to deter people from engaging in practices like these that endanger the safety of the public.
We are very aware that this bill will not be sufficient in itself to put an end to the tragedies that are caused by street racing. However, sending a clear message that street racing will not be tolerated and will result in severe sentences will perhaps mean saving lives, by persuading some individuals to give up this dangerous activity that puts other people’s lives at risk.
This bill provides an opportunity to steer speed aficionados toward legal racetracks that have been set up for this purpose, and to make them aware of the terrible tragedies that racing on public streets can lead to.
First, I must point out that the previous government introduced Bill C-65, in September 2005, and that in October 2005 we supported it at second reading. It will be recalled that it died on the Order Paper, at committee stage on the dissolution of the 38th Parliament on November 29, 2005.
Unlike Bill C-19, Bill C-65 did not create new street racing offences. It simply treated participating in street racing as an aggravating circumstances for sentencing purposes in cases involving dangerous driving or criminal negligence.
The present BillC-19 therefore goes farther. However, when we pass a bill, will it have an impact on provincial laws, for example? We must always respect jurisdictions. We know that each province and territory has its own motor vehicle and highway safety legislation.
In Quebec, the maximum fine for a driver who engages in street racing is $600. In Ontario, an offender convicted of engaging in street racing may have his or her driver’s licence suspended for a maximum of two years.
Bill C-19 does not infringe on provincial legislation, because it requires that there be criminal intent. Criminal law is clearly under federal jurisdiction.
It appears that Bill C-19 will do nothing to alter the power that Quebec and the provinces have to regulate street racing. Here is an excerpt from an analysis of the bill by Dominique Valiquet of the Law and Government Division of the Library of Parliament:
An act during a sporting event may lead to criminal charges, even though the sport is provincially regulated. A parallel can be drawn with hockey. In Quebec, a regulation has been made, under the act respecting safety in sports, about hockey safety. Such a regulation does not prevent criminal charges from being laid against a player who committed an act that is an offence under the Criminal Code. An example would be assault causing bodily harm.
In the case of street racing, the act of a driver (even during a regulated event) can give rise to criminal charges if:
the driver has the required criminal intent;
the act represents a hazard that goes beyond the acceptable risks of the sport.
Dominique Valiquet continues:
However, it is important to note that Bill C-19 applies only to street racing in a public place. The first clause of the bill uses the wording “on a street, road, highway or other public place”.
Consequently, Bill C-19 does not apply to car races held on a track to which the public does not have access. However, in that case, criminal charges could be laid under the provisions of the Criminal Code on dangerous driving or criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death.
This opinion from Dominique Valiquet of the Law and Government Division of the Library of Parliament is clear as to the legal aspect of the bill.
We can summarize the bill by saying that it amends the Criminal Code by defining street racing and creating five new offences related to street racing. This is what distinguishes it from Bill C-65, for example, which was introduced by the other government. For three of these new offences, Bill C-19 provides for maximum sentences that are stiffer than those currently in effect for dangerous driving or criminal negligence while operating a motor vehicle. It introduces mandatory orders prohibiting offenders from driving for a minimum period, with a gradual increase in the duration of the order for repeat offences.
Let us take a closer look at this. For example, under current legislation, the courts must turn to the provisions related to dangerous driving or criminal negligence to punish those who engage in street racing. At present, the Criminal Code specifies four offences that could apply to street racing in case of death or injury: criminal negligence causing death, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm.
Under current legislation, the fact that criminal negligence or dangerous driving was committed in the context of street racing has no bearing. That is what we hope to change.
As for mandatory driving prohibitions, the Criminal Code currently compels judges to suspend the driver's licence of any individual convicted of impaired driving. For offences of criminal negligence and dangerous driving, such a suspension is currently at the judge's discretion. The difference under the proposed legislation is that it would not be left to the judge's discretion; rather, there would be mandatory minimum sentences.
Let us first look at clause 1 of the bill. The bill defines street racing as:
—operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place.
The expression “operating a motor vehicle in a race” does not seem to include a timed race involving only one motor vehicle. That would have to be added and defined at committee.
The definition of “motor vehicle” is found in section 2 of the Criminal Code. It includes motorcycles, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. This is very important because races often take place among these kinds of vehicles.
The definition of street racing applies to organized street races as well as those improvised in inappropriate locations not intended for this purpose.
As for offences pertaining to street racing, it is important to talk about the five new offences created by this legislation. In addition to participation in street racing, an element of negligence must be present. What is the difference between criminal negligence and dangerous operation? What defines dangerous operation is that the driver's behaviour must be markedly different in terms of due diligence compared to that of a reasonable person in the same situation. In the case of criminal negligence, the driver must be found to have acted with wanton and careless disregard for the lives or safety of others. There is a distinct difference. Also, it must be shown that there was criminal negligence or dangerous operation in order for the participant to be found guilty of one of the five new street racing offences.
Whoever assists or encourages a street racer may also be considered to have participated in the offence.
This is important because there are promoters of these races on the Internet, who will not be charged unless they are included. Those who organize such races, not just the participants, must also be held responsible.
Bill C-19 adds the five following street racing offences to the Criminal Code: dangerous operation of a motor vehicle; dangerous operation causing bodily harm; dangerous operation causing death; causing bodily harm by criminal negligence; and causing death by criminal negligence. This is very clear.
For three of these new offences, Bill C-19 provides maximum sentences that are longer than those currently set for dangerous driving or criminal negligence in operating a motor vehicle. In the case of dangerous operation causing bodily harm, the sentence is 14 years compared to 10. For dangerous operation causing death, the sentence is imprisonment for life compared to 14 years. The difference in sentencing and the new offences being added are significant.
Judges can also order driving prohibitions. The Criminal Code currently requires the judge to suspend the driver's licence in cases where an individual is convicted of having the care or control of a vehicle while impaired.
For criminal negligence and dangerous driving offences, such an order is currently at the judge's discretion. When an individual is found guilty of criminal negligence causing death, the licence may be suspended for life. Bill C-19 removes the judge's discretion by setting out a one-year mandatory minimum driving prohibition the first time an individual is convicted of dangerous driving or criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death while participating in street racing.
The bill provides that the minimum driving prohibition period will be increased for subsequent offences. It is important to read the driving prohibition provision very carefully. It prohibits the offender from operating a motor vehicle on any street, road, highway or other public place for a minimum period plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment. This is in addition to any other sentence the court may impose. An offender may appeal a driving prohibition order before the National Parole Board to cancel or vary such an order. Driving during the prohibition period is punishable by up to five years imprisonment. This bill would make major changes to the Criminal Code.
Bill C-19's proposed system of gradually increasing the length of prohibition for repeat offences would have to be reviewed. For dangerous driving that does not cause bodily harm, the increasing length of the prohibition is identical to the provisions in the Criminal Code for offences involving drinking and driving. This seems reasonable to us.
However, the minimum lengths seem more problematic for repeat offences of dangerous driving and criminal negligence causing death. For example, if a person has already been found guilty of dangerous driving cause bodily harm and they cause another person's death as a result of dangerous driving, they will automatically be banned from driving for life. In that example, the fact that a judge is forced to ban the offender from driving for life could create adverse effects, effects we have gone over a number of times during discussions on minimum sentences.
Let us review the reasons that have always prompted us to be extremely cautious in using minimum sentences. Minimum sentences restrict the judges, who are in the best position to determine the most appropriate sentence in light of all the facts in each case.
The Bloc Québécois defends a model of justice based on a personalized process, with a case-by-case approach and with the principle of rehabilitation in mind. Minimum sentences can have adverse effects and lead to plea bargaining by lawyers wanting to have their clients charged with offences that do not have minimum sentences.
Minimum sentences could also compel a judge to acquit an individual rather than impose a sentence that he or she feels is too strict, in light of any particular circumstances. For example, a suspension for life, while the appropriate sentence might be a suspended licence for five years. Hence, the amendments and questions proposed by the Bloc Québécois regarding this bill.
The message we want to send to our young men and women is that there are places to engage in racing. That is what race tracks are for. So we do not want to discourage them or deny them the full enjoyment of their vehicles. Many young people put time and money into fine vehicles which are often very powerful. This is very much the fashion, and we do not want to discourage them from it.
What we are saying to them is that, when they do this, there are places for running their automobile trials. It is quite obvious that, for a young person who has spent a lot of money, it is always important to determine in the field whether the goods have been delivered. The message that we want to send our young people is that the only way to do this is on the race track and in those places where this type of racing is permitted.
I will also quote the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, who had this to say about the Montreal police forces:
The Montreal police forces have gone to considerable lengths to try to prevent this while maintaining a respectful posture. There is station No. 24 in Montreal...which has done wonders in this regard. I think now, though, that the law needs to be toughened. These sentences, which used to be at a judge's discretion, need to be made mandatory
In closing, I will also quote the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, who said, “Efforts have to be made in terms of prevention, education, information and so on”.
In his speech, the hon. member talked about the need to go further. The discretionary powers of judges have allowed this phenomenon to expand over time. It is spreading more and more in cities, but also, as the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine said, “in rural and other areas in Quebec and Canada”.
In closing, I will quote the Library of Parliament again:
Although there are supervised locations where speed lovers can test their vehicles completely legally, street racing is still popular. Street racers are often looking for thrills, and some feel that the thrills are heightened in the street, in traffic, where the unexpected may happen and racers risk meeting a patrol car.
Street racing is becoming a new challenge and is expanding, according to the research by the Library of Parliament.
Indeed, a variant of this activity has been invented — the “hat race” or “cannonball run”: money is put into a hat, which is put in a location that is kept secret until just before the race starts, and the first participant to get there wins the money. No holds are barred: the drivers run red lights and ignore stop signs. These races are a clear reflection of the general attitude of recklessness that prevails among street racing participants.
That is what the Library of Parliament researcher has to say.
In my opinion, this is one more reason to vote for this bill, which is a step in the right direction. We have to put an end to street races and put them back where they belong: on race tracks and in places that are legally designated for racing.
October 2nd, 2006 / 3:55 p.m.
Rob Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege today to speak to Bill C-19 respecting street racing.
Today I of course will be speaking in favour of the government's Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
We have heard members opposite say there is some magic formula that can be used as a cure-all, but I think Canadians and certainly my constituents in Fundy Royal, contrary to those members, find it extremely refreshing that we finally have a government that is taking criminal justice seriously. We know that for too long there was a Liberal revolving door to the criminal justice system. We saw a lot of fluff come out. We saw programs that did not work.
Frankly, my constituents say to me that they find it refreshing to have a government that takes seriously protecting them, protecting society, protecting their lives and protecting their property. Quite frankly, they were fed up with the talk from the opposite side and are pleased to see some action.
As we know, and as has been said in other speeches, the matter of street racing was one of great importance to the late Chuck Cadman. Chuck was a member of Parliament for Surrey North and had twice brought forward a private member's bill on the issue of street racing, but each time the bill died on the order paper.
The previous government, as was mentioned, also brought forward a government bill, Bill C-65, during the 38th Parliament. That bill, too, died on the order paper. Like Mr. Cadman's bill, Bill C-65 took the approach of making street racing an aggravating factor for the offences of dangerous driving and criminal negligence that involve death or injury. Unlike Mr. Cadman's bill, Bill C-65 did not propose higher minimum driving prohibitions for repeat offences.
The government's Bill C-19 does follow Mr. Cadman's approach of bringing in mandatory driving prohibitions that escalate with repeat offences. We know that it is the few who are creating the problem. It is the recidivism and the repeat offenders who need to get the message that we are not going to tolerate serious street racing on Canada's streets.
In order to ensure that police and prosecutors can determine that a person is a repeat offender through the Canadian Police Information Centre, it is necessary to enact a street racing offence rather than simply create an aggravating factor of street racing. This is because CPIC does not record aggravating factors.
Some would say that past proposals to enact a requirement for judges to take into account acts of street racing as an aggravating factor in sentencing were very modest, given the fact that judges, and this is an important point, are already required to take into account all aggravating and mitigating circumstances when sentencing an offender. In this sense, enacting an aggravating factor provision would simply codify what judges already do and what they are quite rightly required to do. If a judge does not consider street racing an aggravating factor in sentencing, one would certainly expect the prosecution to appeal the sentence.
New street racing offences carrying mandatory driving prohibitions will send street racers a very clear message. It is a message that has to be sent on behalf of all Canadians. Racing on public streets is not going to be tolerated. I would point out that I am not, of course, speaking here of officially sanctioned road rallies but about those who commit the offence of dangerous driving or criminal negligence coupled with street racing. We did hear some members speaking today about legal racing, racing on racetracks, which is perfectly legitimate and which the bill does not touch on.
To those who do not heed the message sent by these new offences, Bill C-19 will deliver serious consequences.
Let me speak for a minute about those who engage in street racing. In many cases, they risk not only their own lives but the lives of others and pedestrians, innocent third parties who have in no way consented to any form of speed contest on the streets of our cities and towns.
My hat is off to police officers and others who work very hard with motorsport shops and organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving to find safe, closed circuit venues for drivers to experience the thrill of racing. Those kinds of efforts, along with strong federal and provincial legislation, are exactly what is needed to eradicate street racing in Canada.
In my view, specific federal legislation on street racing is needed now more than ever. The evidence is quite clear on that. The existing dangerous driving and criminal negligence offences that can apply to street racing go some distance to preventing street racing by right thinking drivers, but there are still too many that will risk the lives pedestrians and other motorists in order to engage in street racing on busy city streets.
Where Parliament can do something more than what is already in place to improve the Criminal Code measures directed against street racing or any other serious offence for that matter, it ought to do so. Bill C-19 gives parliamentarians the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to the combined federal, provincial and municipal efforts aimed at street racing.
Bill C-19 will enact five new offences related to street racing. Three of these relate to the existing offence of dangerous driving. The other two relate to the existing offence of criminal negligence. For all five offences within Bill C-19, the key distinguishing feature will be the commission of the underlying offence plus the act of street racing on a street, road, highway or other place to which the public has access.
Another distinguishing feature of the five street racing offences is that they will each carry a mandatory prohibition from driving in Canada. These Criminal Code driving prohibitions will escalate for repeat offenders.
I will ask the indulgence of my colleagues in the House while I briefly sketch out the mandatory driving prohibitions.
For a first offence of dangerous driving with no death or injury accompanied by street racing, the minimum driving prohibition will be one year and the maximum driving prohibition will be three years.
For a second offence of dangerous driving with no death or injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition will be two years and the maximum driving prohibition will be five years.
For a third offence of dangerous driving, again with no death or injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition will be three years and the maximum driving prohibition will be a lifetime driving ban.
Where there is a first conviction for dangerous driving with injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition will be a minimum of one year and a maximum of 10 years.
Where there is a second conviction for dangerous driving or criminal negligence with injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition would be two years and the maximum driving prohibition 10 years.
Where there is a third dangerous driving or criminal negligence with injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition would be three years and the maximum again would be a lifetime ban.
Where there is a first conviction for criminal negligence with death and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition would be one year and the maximum would be a lifetime ban.
Where there is a first conviction for dangerous driving with death and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition would be one year and the maximum driving prohibition would be 10 years.
On a second conviction involving dangerous driving and street racing or criminal negligence street racing involving death or injury, and either the first or the second conviction involved a death, there would be a mandatory lifetime driving ban.
I hasten to note that these driving prohibitions are in addition to a driving ban during any period in which drivers are imprisoned. There will be no case where convicted drivers are sitting in jail, not prohibited from driving or having the driving prohibition period running down while they are incarcerated.
I turn now to the provisions in Bill C-19 for imprisonment.
For dangerous driving with street racing where there is no death or injury, the prosecution has the choice to proceed summarily, where the maximum period of incarceration is six months imprisonment, or the prosecution in a more serious case may choose to proceed by way of indictment, in which case the maximum period of imprisonment is five years.
For dangerous driving or criminal negligence with injury and street racing, the maximum period of incarceration is 14 years under Bill C-19. The current Criminal Code provisions do not speak to street racing and the present maximum for dangerous driving or criminal negligence with injury is 10 years imprisonment.
For both dangerous driving and criminal negligence with death and street racing, the maximum period of incarceration is life under Bill C-19. The current Criminal Code provisions again do not speak to street racing and the present maximum for dangerous driving with death is 14 years imprisonment and for criminal negligence with death the maximum is currently life imprisonment.
I think that Bill C-19 is a balanced approach to dealing with the dangers posed by street racing. The ranges of imprisonment and mandatory driving prohibitions that escalate with repeat offences reflect the serious nature of the proposed street racing offences.
Although there may be the very rare case where there are drivers who repeat a street racing offence that involves bodily harm or death, the police information system, CPIC, will track the repeat offence and it will be certain that these persons will receive harsher sanctions. This is an improvement over prior street racing bills given that the police information system does not show that there was an aggravating factor of street racing in a prior conviction, but would show prior street racing offences that are proposed by Bill C-19.
I also want to set the record straight on a couple of issues. Some media articles have suggested there is nothing useful to be found in Bill C-19 or that it is simply politically motivated. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is clear that the bill will bring in mandatory driving prohibitions that will escalate with repeat offences. The existing driving prohibition in dangerous driving and criminal negligence cases is discretionary. It is hard to imagine that even some legal commentators do not seem to grasp this very significant proposal for change.
With the number of street racing offences involving death or injury, there will be an increase in the penalty range from that which exists for the current offences of dangerous driving and of criminal negligence. This is not a cynical political attempt to grab headlines. It is a valid response to a real problem which does what the Criminal Code can logically do in order to contribute to existing combined efforts of provincial governments, police, municipal governments, and other stakeholders to eliminate street racing and its attendant dangers from Canadian roads.
While it is true that higher maximum penalties under Bill C-19, like all maximum penalties, are reserved for the worst offender and the worst factual circumstances, raising a maximum penalty is Parliament's signal to the courts that Parliament sees the problem as more serious and that a shift to higher sentences is warranted even in those cases that do not involve the worst offender and the worst factual circumstances.
Some critics have even suggested that prosecutors would shy away from a dangerous driving street racing charge and prosecute a dangerous driving charge instead. This is nonsensical. The street racing offence will carry a mandatory driving prohibition while a conviction for dangerous driving without street racing carries a discretionary driving prohibition. There is a clear advantage to the street racing charge and with the passage of Bill C-19 an additional tool for the prosecutor's toolbox.
Finally, some critics charge that the problem is one which is either small or trifling. Try telling that to ordinary Canadians who experience street racers dodging in and out of traffic, putting road users at risk, or to families who are attending funerals and hospital emergency rooms as a result of a street racing accident. We cannot give street racing the ostrich treatment and simply stick our heads in the sand saying it is not a big problem.
No member of the government side of the House is saying that Bill C-19 alone is going to end street racing. However, it is an important part of the combination of countermeasures that are needed to confront the problem. Not to bring forward these measures would be irresponsible.
Where Parliament can do something proactive and logical about street racing, it ought to do exactly that. Bill C-19 proposes measures that are logical and that can be implemented by police and prosecutors. The measures proposed are neither pie in the sky nor Draconian. They are balanced and measured. They are calculated to contribute to the elimination of dangerous driving and criminal negligence combined with street racing. Anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong in their assessment of what the bill proposes.
In closing, I want to congratulate the Minister of Justice for fending off unjustifiable criticism in bringing this bill forward. I think it builds on the work done by the late Mr. Cadman and even on the street racing bill of the previous government. It does so in a very non-partisan way.
Bill C-19 is not about locking offenders and throwing away the key. It is balanced but it is firm. It is not a single solution to street racing, but it joins in the combination of measures that are needed to eradicate the dangers on the street.
I will be supporting Bill C-19 and I invite all members of the House to put aside partisan politics and pass this bill at second reading to send it to the legislative committee review stage.
October 2nd, 2006 / 3:55 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, clearly we know that under various motor vehicle statutes in the provinces there is the local power to regulate, so to speak, what can be done to a vehicle and what cannot be done.
Clearly at the municipal level there are bylaws and policies that could be enacted, but both of those examples, to answer the hon. member's question, come down to a matter of resources. All police forces will tell us, as the hon. member knows, that problem oriented policing is the wave of the future. This is what police officers now want to do. Rather than deal with a crime that has happened, they want to prevent crimes from happening. They want to get into the schools. In this case, they want to be out on the streets to prevent street racing events from occurring, more by their presence in a deterrent way rather than a “cover the whole area” way.
My hon. friend is absolutely right that resources to communities have to be allocated. Municipalities are the third level of government. They were doing extremely well under the Liberal-led infrastructure program. They sought and received mandates for programming of all sorts that made our cities more viable.
Instead of just trotting out a bill that has a catchy title and leads the public into a false sense of security, we have to ensure that in the future we back it up, that the government backs it up, perhaps at our urging, with the sufficient resources to enforce it and make the deterrent effects in it real, because if we are only relying on the definitions in a section of the Criminal Code, then these people, given their disrespect for judges generally, would be the first to say that is not a sufficient deterrent factor.
What has to be done is more vigilance in the community. I would think that a new government with any sort of freshness might have said, “Let us continue on the path of Bill C-65. Let us continue on the infrastructure program. Let us make our communities viable.” I would think it might have said, “Let us not cut funding from public safety and emergency preparedness. Let us not cut $1 billion of funding to the social fabric that keeps this community together”.
I would have thought that would have been one of the first orders of the day, but that is not what has happened here. The money is not flowing. Bills are being presented so that they can shock the public into an awareness of crimes that in certain cases are not as bad in prevalence as is advertised. Then there seem to be the white knight cure-alls by very poor, hollow and shallow legislation, which I believe Bill C-19 is.
October 2nd, 2006 / 3:50 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, clearly in an area where there is a $13 billion plus surplus, to bring in this bill and not bring in any measures to educate the driving public, and the youth public, frankly, about the dangers of street racing, and where clearly resources to the RCMP are being cut for a cutting edge prevention program, it shows that the right hand and the left hand of the government do not know what they are doing. Or worse, if the government members know what they are doing, they are more interested in laws that do not necessarily make sense.
As a member of the last Parliament, the hon. member would know that Bill C-65 did attempt to address these issues, in a more organic, more intelligent and, more important, more efficacious way. I am not talking about the subsequent prohibitions later on, but in terms of sentencing and sending the message out, the mandatory aggravating factor would work. This would give judges the hammer they need in order to fashion the appropriate sentence for a convicted street racer or a person who, in my terminology, does dangerous things with vehicles. That is really what this is about.
I think the government is off the mark here. This bill is hastily drafted. It is sensational in character. It will not get to the root cause. The people of Canada are being lulled into a false sense of security by the nightly news bulletins from the Conservative Party of Canada.
October 2nd, 2006 / 3:25 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, since this is my first intervention in the House since the election campaign in New Brunswick, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Liberal government in New Brunswick and Premier designate, Shawn Graham, and his team.
As partners, we will represent New Brunswick in a new era of relations between the three levels of government.
It is my pleasure today to speak on Bill C-19. It is another one of the bills presented by the new Conservative government.
Once again, with the introduction of this proposed legislation, the Minister of Justice does not address the real issue. While he and his government might be playing to another audience, an audience in large municipal centres of rich population, dense population and voters who did not support the government, they are playing to the issues that affect people very much. While the purported message in the bill is to prevent crime and keep communities safe, the real objective of the bill, like all other bills the Minister of Justice has led through the House, is political gain.
Like the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh said earlier, we must look at the issues involved and the real merits of the bill and compare it to other bills, which have been presented in Parliament's past, to give a good review of where we want to go. I submit that this matter be sent to committee for procedural as well as substantive review.
The real issue is the saving of lives before lives are put in danger. Instead of investing time and energy into creating new offences that have a catchy title, such as is the case with Bill C-19, we as a responsible nation and as responsible parliamentarians need to invest in prevention and education to prevent street racing from happening, rather than dealing just with the victims and deaths once street racing has occurred.
It occurred to me that this would be an appropriate time to bring forward the fact that, under the public safety and emergency preparedness cuts of last week, the RCMP cut from its budget $4.6 million to do with the elimination of drug impaired driving programs through its training budget. It seems remarkable to me that on the one hand the government is suggesting our streets will be safer. On the other hand, it takes money away from a program that would have made the streets safer.
I am proud of the fact that Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a Canada-wide organization. It has probably met with every member of Parliament. It is very focused. I am very proud that the president of MADD currently is a resident of New Brunswick. It would not be particularly pleased that the first focus of the government, when it comes to driving offences, is street racing. For some time, it has been lobbying for measures such as those cut in the recent budget. It would like to see the penalties meted out to drunk driving offences, which have a long history in the Criminal Code, as severe as those for street racing violations, and they are not under this bill.
We can all agree that street racing is a dangerous activity and has no place in Canadian communities. I am tired of other parties in the House being castigated with the brush, that we are not for the protection of our citizens. I make a non-partisan statement that every member of the House is for public safety and safety in our streets. We will differ on how to get there. My remarks are about that.
How to address this problem is the real issue. The Minister of Justice believes that by creating a new series of offences that reference the existing Criminal Code offences, we will have a panacea. Because it is called a street racing bill, I am very concerned that members of the public will now think it will eradicate street racing. Nothing can be further from the truth.
The truth is there are in existence a number of harsh and severe offences, which have to be meted out by the justices and for which this very Minister of Justice has absolutely no respect. The Minister of Justice has showed that he does not even know how judges get appointed. He has to know what colour they are in political allegiance, but he has no idea how they get appointed. He has shown so little respect for judges and their discretion that he has held up a long overdue pay increase to them. He has criticized judges as Liberal judges. Today he might have argued that judges have no political stripes. We are waiting for a lot of answers from the Minister of Justice on his view and his level of respect for the judiciary of our country.
Clearly, by these amendments, he has no respect for judicial discretion. This is in a long line of bills that the government has presented. I am not sure the minister has read them all but they all represent one thing: no discretion to be left in the hands of judges, who are probably all Liberal judges, but of course that will gradually change appointment by appointment. The minister has no respect for the discretion of these judges. That is the case with this bill as well. It would take away discretion.
Mr. Speaker, unlike my hon. friend, I am used to the courtroom and there is decorum in a courtroom.
This bill, like Bill C-9 and Bill C-10, takes away the discretion that judges have and instead of sculpting what could be taken from the late Chuck Cadman's bill and Bill C-65 as presented, where these factors would be taken into account on sentencing, the Minister of Justice, in his marquee cinema like world, wants to name something and pretend that all citizens of Canada will now be safe from street racing. However, that is not the case. The bill, on a technical aspect, would further cloud some issues by creating these new offences.
The definition of street racing itself has been talked about so I will eliminate that from my speech. It is something that can be cleaned up at committee. As members have said, the definition as it relates to at least one other motor vehicle can be made to make sense because there are races that include only one vehicle.
There are also problems with the definition of “public place”. While the bill is primarily oriented toward an urban environment, the Minister of Justice and members of the House will know, whether or not they are lawyers, that public places and motor vehicles have been defined and they may include snowmobiles on icy surfaces of lakes in rural Canada. This may be of concern as we go forward in looking at this bill.
On the solo race, the race against time and against oneself, the bill does not address that behaviour. This may be more dangerous than the actual one-on-one racing that occurs in some municipalities.
Bill C-19 creates another confusion. There is a lot of confusion in every Conservative bill because the Conservatives are in a hurry to leave a strong impression in Canada. It has been well established in law that objectively the offence of dangerous driving is not as serious as criminal negligence. However, this bill establishes an identical system of imprisonment for both offences. That does not make much sense.
It is respectfully submitted that the proper approach to deal with this dangerous conduct is simply to make street racing a mandatory aggravating factor in sentencing.
I heard talk in the House about whether people need to be lawyers but surely they do not. They need to have good sense. However, it does mean that the lawyers in this House need to have common sense too. It does not excuse the lawyers from the requirement for good common sense. The good common sense from having street racing as a mandatory aggravating factor in sentencing means that while we trust judges, and on this side of the House we do, to make proper decisions, we are saying by way of public statement that they shall consider street racing, when it is present, as an aggravating factor. This would remove the issue of having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a street race has occurred.
One could imagine, in very serious circumstances, that the lawyers would spend most of their fighting over the definition of street racing because it has not been provided in the bill. The hon. Minister of Justice says that there is a lot of common law on this but common law on racing in Canada would probably be more tuned to horse racing than street racing because Canada has not had a law on street racing, which leaves it as a dog's breakfast. We probably have a whole bunch of Liberal lawyers trying to figure it out.
Instead, we would like some Liberal legislators to make it inevitable that we will not need to deal with the definition of street racing. The Minister of Justice and his cohorts can still go out on the bandstands and say that they have cured the issue but the technical aspect is that aggravating factor in sentencing would ensure the judge is just dealing with whether he thinks there was a race, whether there was dangerous operation of a motor vehicle or whether there was criminal negligence. Those are the standards that have been used. Those terms have meaning in law. They have been considered in cases. Those are judicial decisions that judges write.
This would remove the issue of having to deal with street racing, which has not been defined, just as the Liberal's Bill C-65 and, as I said before, private member's Bill C-230, proposed by the late Chuck Cadman, proposed to deal with this. I think it is the right way to go. Preferably we will deal with it in committee and, if not, by amendment at third reading stage.
It is suggested that by providing a mandatory aggravating factor in sentencing, the message to the public will be as serious as the marquee name “street racing” and the message would be heard loud and clear. It would be easier at a sentence hearing to argue that the aggravating factors existed.
Members will note in the material supplied by the Library of Parliament that a number of the cases showed that there were other aggravating factors, not mitigating factors. The Minister of Justice likes to speak about mitigating factors, the people who got off because of circumstances. We have had plenty of cases where there are multiple increased aggravating factors, such as the use of alcohol, criminal gang activity and lack of remorse. These are aggravating factors that can be combined with the mandatory aggravating factor in sentencing that was in place in Bill C-65.
The difference between a dangerous driving offence and a dangerous driving offence involving a race will be a dog's breakfast before the courts. I think we need to be careful that, while we agree on a goal, which is keeping the streets safer, we give, not only the judges but prosecutors, the tools they need to succeed in getting convictions and not give them loopholes with undefined terms, all for the purpose of political gain.
The bill would increase the available maximum prison terms. Once again, it is a well-established legal principle that the maximum sentence is usually reserved for the worst offender in the worst case. This might give people who are very concerned about street racing offences the false impression that every street racing offence will be charged under a maximum or asked for by charging the maximum.
We know that there are summary conviction methods of proceeding here, which give prosecutors discretion in the way they wish to proceed. We also know that maximum terms are not meted out that frequently.
It is important to tell the truth to the Canadian public, that even this bill, in its form, does not guarantee that every street racing offender will get 10 or 14 years. It is time to be real with the Canadian public. The bill would provide for mandatory orders of prohibition from driving.
At this time I would like to mention again the spectre of MADD. Mothers Against Drunk Driving might very well be at our doors next week or the week after, should we move this on or pass it relatively quickly, to ask where the tough mandatory orders of prohibitions are for longer periods on continued, excessive and repetitive drunk driving offences. The bill is harsher than those infractions are and those infractions were built up over a long period of time.
Though it should be easy to support this initiative with respect to the mandatory orders of prohibition, the manner in which it is addressed is inadequate, specifically when dealing with repeat offenders.
It is important to know the distinction between dangerous driving causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. Let us take ourselves to a situation in an area not unlike the area that my friend from Fundy Royal represents, a countryside where there is a known repeat offender with respect to racing. This person is dangerous to the public and to himself or herself. The person is convicted the first time of dangerous driving because the prosecutor and the police, in that case the rural RCMP, say that this will show that person and this will be a deterrent. Hopefully that person is meted out the proper sentence and the proper time is served.
On the second conviction, the police might very well charge that person, because it is a repeat offence, with criminal negligence causing bodily harm. In both cases there could be bodily harm, the same modus operandi, the same facts, but the police authorities and the prosecutor have said that, for deterrent's sake, they must charge the person with the worse offence because the person will get more time.
Under this bill as drafted, and I hope we can sort this out at committee, I submit that the repeat offence will not be caught by the mandatory prohibitions and the longer sentences. The reason is that the definition of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, if amended, with or without a street race, is not a repeat if it is charged under criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
These definitions and these legal words certainly have to be worked out at the committee level but there is more than that. It is not good enough for the chief law officer of this nation to sign off on a bill for which homework has yet to be done. It is not fair enough to say that we can fix this at committee. It is a trend. It is trend of the government to present ill-conceived, ill-drafted, hasty and sensational bills to this House, known more for their titles than their substance, and expect the hard-working members of the committee to set it all right.
If I could send one message to the government members it would be that they read the bills, consider them and consider that the Criminal Code of Canada is holistic, it is organic and it should be taken in this context.
When a person is charged with criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing bodily harm, it begs the question of whether this is a repeat offender. Is the criminal negligence a second offence? We would not know. The bill fails to answer those questions. I can tell members that every doubt will be cast in favour of the accused in our courtrooms, as they are constituted.
Many if not all studies have shown that there is no link between more severe, longer and harsher sentences and the diminution of crime rates. While I, as a member of society, might be very willing to go with the government on longer sentences and try the principle of sentence that says deterrence is important, I would need to know and I would need to be able to tell my constituents that it will work, that the thrill-seeking street racer will be deterred by a harsher sentence.
It goes back to our first point. Through education or funding in law enforcement and more cooperation with the provincial law authorities, I think more could be done than just simply getting it out on the five o'clock news that we will cure street racing now because we have a three page bill. That is not good enough.
If the minister uses the word “holistic”, then let us put it into action. Let us work together to make sure that as Nicholson, Rob he convenes meetings with provincial attorneys general and that he sees the good work being done in cities like San Diego and Los Angeles and, if I may for local advertisement, the city of Moncton in enforcing its bylaws, in preventing drive-throughs, and in preventing people from circling certain locations on a habitual basis.
Let us work together with these various levels of government, because the cities and municipalities in this country are the third order of government, and let us try to make a better bill that would save the government money, but more important, would save lives.
Bill C-19 would create a new offence punishing people for street racing just as they are already being punished now for street racing. This is already covered in the current Criminal Code. This bill would allow us to arrest people only after they have put other people's lives at risk. We have to look at the big picture. We have to work with other members of other governments to make sure that we make a better law.
October 2nd, 2006 / 12:45 p.m.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-19. As we have already heard in this House, this bill addresses a marginal yet important phenomenon, namely, street racing on public roads, streets and highways. This problem is very worrisome. According to statistics provided by the Library of Parliament, since 1999, 35 people in the greater Toronto area have died as a result of this practice.
Furthermore, in the course of this year, which is drawing to a close, there have already been approximately ten people who have unfortunately lost their lives because of this practice. I do not know what drives people to engage in street racing. Are they seeking thrills? Are betting, material gain or jackpots involved?
The government certainly has reason to be concerned. I have been a member in this House since 1993 and I remember very well the work of the hon. member from British Columbia who, sadly, has since passed away. That member introduced a bill in this House on three separate occasions. I understand that he became aware of this issue as the result of a tragedy in his own life, since he lost his own son in an incident involving street racing. I am referring of course to our late colleague, Mr. Cadman.
The Bloc Québécois therefore supports this bill's referral to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Of course, it still needs some work, but we agree with the principle that the Criminal Code should be amended to add a distinct offence to punish those who engage in street racing, especially in urban areas. This bill is somewhat different from the bill introduced by the previous government, since the previous bill proposed the use of all provisions in the Criminal Code concerning dangerous driving or criminal negligence to make street racing an aggravating factor.
With respect to the principles of sentencing set out in section 718 of the Criminal Code, there are aggravating factors in cases where, for example, someone commits a crime, infraction or assault by intentionally beating someone up because of their sexual orientation. If we interpret section 718 of the Criminal Code correctly, a judge would have to take this principle into account when sentencing.
According to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the principle of proportionality must apply in all cases. Clearly, a person who commits a horrific, violent crime that causes death cannot receive the same punishment as a 15-year-old who steals something for the first time. Clearly, the principle of proportionality is central to section 718 of the Criminal Code. Mr. Speaker, you practised criminal law, so you must be familiar with these concepts.
The Bloc Québécois agrees that the bill before us should be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This bill does not take aggravating factors into account. The bill focuses on five infractions that already exist, redefining them and assigning specific penalties when they are committed in a street racing context. I would like to list these infractions to ensure we all understand. Bill C-19 says that dangerous driving that does not cause bodily harm, as set out in section 249.4 of the Criminal Code, when in a street racing context, must be subject to a specific charge.
A second new offence is created. Dangerous driving causing bodily harm—when someone injures someone or the car hits another car and causes injury—which is covered by subsection 249.4(3) of the Criminal Code, will give rise to a separate charge when street racing is involved.
There is a third offence. The punishment for dangerous driving causing death, which is obviously more serious, will be much more severe and can go up to life in prison. This is the third separate offence created in connection with street racing.
The fourth new offence that is created is criminal negligence causing bodily harm, which is covered by section 249.3 of the Criminal Code. When street racing is involved, this offence would give rise to a separate charge.
The fifth offence is criminal negligence causing death. This is not dangerous driving causing death, but criminal negligence causing death. It is the fifth new offence. It is already covered by section 249 of the Criminal Code and will give rise to a separate charge.
As an aside, hon. members know how prolific this government is when it comes to creating new offences. This government clearly wants to address a number of social problems by creating criminal law. But we must always ask ourselves whether a given problem warrants creating new offences.
In some cases, obviously, we do not agree with this approach. Penalties and sentences already exist. For example, I am very concerned about Bill C-9, which amends section 742 of the Criminal Code. This section was created in 1996, when Canada's current ambassador to the United Nations, Allan Rock, decided that the judiciary would have the option of a new alternate sentence, which was the possibility of serving a sentence in the community, at home. However, very specific conditions that we are all aware of applied to sentences under two years and cases where there were no minimum sentences. Clearly, the judge had to be convinced that the person serving the sentence did not pose a threat to the community.
The member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel knows that this is one case where it is certainly not helpful to take this tool away from the judiciary.
In the case before us, the Bloc Québécois is prepared to engage, in committee, in the serious exercise of considering whether it is appropriate to add specific provisions to the Criminal Code to put an end to the practice of using the public roadways for racing, which, marginal though it is, can have tragic consequences.
I am going to speak a little about the options that will be available to the courts when they sentence people convicted of street racing. Obviously, the entire question of sentencing is a sensitive issue in criminal law. We must know that there are very entrenched schools of thought: the “retributionists” and the “utilitarians”. Some people say that sentences have exemplary value, that they have deterrent powers, and accordingly that the more severe the sentences, the less people are likely to engage in that type of offence. Obviously, that reasoning is not immune to criticism, because it starts from the premise that individuals, ordinary mortals, are familiar with the Criminal Code and therefore with the type of offence and the type of sentence associated with it.
Obviously, we might doubt that this is so.
Some people say that sentences have very limited deterrent powers. It is not so much the sentence that matters, it is the efficacy of the sanction, because people will be arrested by the police and locked up, put in prison. Regardless of what school of thought one belongs to when it comes to sentencing, BillC-19 proposes the following sentences.
Speaking still of street racing, no minimum sentence is provided for dangerous driving that does not cause bodily harm or death—simple dangerous driving—but there is a maximum sentence of five years. When dangerous driving causes bodily harm, the maximum sentence is 14 years.
It is interesting to compare this with the previous bill. This is not a pointless exercise. When the Liberals were in power and Bill C-65 was introduced in this House, for the same offence, the Liberals proposed that there be a maximum prison term of 10 years. The Conservatives had—let us admit it—a more right-wing vision, one that took a more law and order approach, and they wanted the maximum to be 14 years.
When it comes to dangerous driving causing death—an extremely serious offence—nothing more needs to be said about the maximum sentence, which is life in prison. The judge can decide to impose a lesser sentence.
For criminal negligence causing bodily harm, the bill provides for a term of 14 years in prison, while in Bill C-65 the Liberals provided for a term of 10 years.
For criminal negligence causing death—also an offence that is of great concern—the proposal is for life imprisonment.
There are two approaches. The current bill proposes that a specific offence with specific penalties be established. The Liberals had proposed that it be treated as an aggravating circumstance, as per section 778, which must serve as a reference when considering the issue of sentencing. It is never easy in a society to know how to handle these cases. In fact, at the end of their mandate, Brian Mulroney's Conservatives—and this will be a pleasant or unpleasant memory depending on the allegiance—had established a commission of inquiry on sentencing, headed by Mr. Justice Archambault, which had dissected the issue of sentencing. The commission recommended that there be no minimum sentences. Since then, minimum sentences have been introduced for all offences pertaining to impaired driving; there are about forty. Minimum sentences have been added to all pornography offences and offences of a sexual nature.
Another clause of the bill deals with a mandatory order prohibiting individuals found guilty of street racing from operating a motor vehicle. At present, drivers' licences can be suspended. In some cases, the judge does not have the option of suspending the driver's licence of the accused before him. I am thinking of all those cases where an individual is found guilty of having the care of a vehicle or driving while impaired.
In other instances, power was more discretionary. The judge could, according to his or her discretion, order that a driver's licence be revoked for a minimum of one year, for a first offence in particular, for reckless driving causing bodily harm.
In Bill C-19 before us, it would be mandatory to revoke the driver's licence.
I can appreciate the logic, since having a driver's licence is not a constitutional right; it is a privilege. It is only natural for the legislator to provide that a driver's licence holder must exercise the privilege of using a car on the highway with extreme caution, vigilance and prudence.
It will also be possible to revoke driver's licences when people are fined for street racing and judges will be able to give a ruling.
And with every additional crime, the harsher the punishment. I will give you some specific examples. For reckless driving without bodily harm or death the judge can give a ruling at his or her discretion, as I was saying. The government would like to withdraw this discretionary power from the judge. For a first offence, it will be impossible to get a driver's licence for a year; for a second offence the suspension will last at least two years; and a third offence will result in a minimum suspension of three years. Maximums are also added to that.
We understand the logic. I am sure my colleagues understand it. We can agree with this, knowing that it is a matter of context and that judges will have to weigh the evidence accordingly.
For reckless driving causing bodily harm, again the judge will no longer have discretionary power. This discretion is being cut back. Let us be frank, the Conservatives have been using every power at their disposal in every bill presented so far to challenge this prerogative.
Are you indicating that I have one minute left or two, Mr. Speaker?
October 2nd, 2006 / 12:30 p.m.
Sue Barnes London West, ON
Mr. Speaker, a number of bills targeting street racing have been placed before this House over the past few years.
Most Canadians will remember the work of a former member of Parliament, the late Chuck Cadman, on the subject. Mr. Cadman, a respected and respectful parliamentarian, submitted private members' legislation three times. The former Liberal government also introduced Bill C-65 to amend the Criminal Code regarding street racing. Mr. Cadman's private member's bill and the proposed legislation of the former government died on the order paper when on November 29 last year the government fell.
Today we are talking about another variation on how we as a society will attempt to deal with this serious scourge on our streets, something that can and does end tragically for some individuals, both the participants and, even more tragically, the bystanders who are innocent.
Bill C-19, unlike both the prior government's Bill C-65 and Mr. Cadman's private member's Bill C-230, includes new street racing offences. Also differing from the former government's bill, Bill C-19 now includes a graduated increase in the length of the driving prohibitions for repeat offences.
In the first half of 2006 in Canada, 10 deaths can be attributed to street racing. More and more we have been alerted to the menace on our streets. Over the past year, street racing, with its deadly consequences, has affected communities across the country.
As many would realize, education is an important tool to help alert the public, especially younger Canadians, to the dangers of street racing. I do not believe that education of itself will be sufficient to effect the necessary change in this dangerous behaviour. I do believe, however, that education on this matter should continue to be used in schools and other media, such as movie theatre trailers, to counteract the increasing sensationalization of street racing now found in some video games and movies.
Not all street racing is a spontaneous event, though this is the type of thrill-seeking activity many would immediately think about when the words street racing are used. Some street races are spectator events, with people being alerted in advance and police lookouts. Therefore, I am not talking about the supervised venues where racers test vehicles on closed tracks. I would also say that it is not only young people who are engaged in street racing, although many of them are, unfortunately.
Bill C-19 and predecessor bills are attempts, using the Criminal Code, to further address the problem of street racing. Members may ask how this has been dealt with in the past. Obviously and unfortunately, street racing is not new. Most would understand that the provinces and territories are involved with their own legislation and statutes respecting the operation of motor vehicles and road safety, and some even have some street racing offences. However, the provincial legislation applies, for the most part, to the less serious offences.
This is in contrast to the federal Criminal Code's more serious offences of criminal negligence and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. These Criminal Code sections have been successfully used to charge and prosecute serious street racing offenders in the past throughout Canada and may in fact continue to be the most efficient choice for prosecutors.
In Bill C-19, proposed clause 1, street racing is defined similarly to the previous bills:
“street racing” means operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place;--
Thus we see that two or more motor vehicles must be involved, not a lone vehicle speeding. Since motor vehicle is already defined in the Criminal Code, the definition in Bill C-19 would capture motorcycles, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. If two or more of them were racing in public places, this would include, for instance, public lots, frozen public waterways, as well as streets, roads and highways that we normally would think about. Bill C-19 would create five new street racing offences which would all require the same fundamental elements in law: a criminal mind and a criminal act, mens rea, actus reus.
These are the same elements that are required to obtain convictions for the existing offences of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle. Both the previous Bill C-65 and Bill C-230 were more focused on street racing as an aggravating circumstance to be taken into account in sentencing by the judge after conviction.
The five new offences created in Bill C-19 would require the same constituent elements as do dangerous operation and criminal negligence, in addition to the new element of street racing.
In other words, the five offences will apply if the offence can first be categorized as criminal negligence or dangerous operation. To clarify for those who still have difficulty with this, the five new sections are new subsection 249.4(1), dangerous operation of motor vehicle while street racing; new subsection 249.4(3), dangerous operation causing bodily harm; new subsection 249.4(4), dangerous operation causing death; new subsection 249.3, causing bodily harm by criminal negligence (street racing); and new subsection 249.2, causing death by criminal negligence (street racing).
Thus, one can easily see that we have a referencing of a new element to existing Criminal Code sections. Is this really a serious attempt to underscore the denouncement of street racing, as the Minister of Justice has just suggested, or is it, as some critics have stated, merely something to show that we are serious, the denunciation just by the statement?
Note that the offences that are needed are already in the Criminal Code. How difficult will it be to prosecute the new element of street racing on top of the two elements already required? Therefore, will it be used more to obtain conviction or be used to plea bargain on the included offences? Will the charges still be laid under the old offences despite the options now provided in this new bill, if passed?
These are important questions and some critics have gone so far as to say that this is a totally unnecessary or window dressing bill. However, I do think that the subject area is one that all Canadians are concerned about and the previous government was also acting in this area. I do not think that anyone believes street racing is a good idea, rather it is dangerous and a menace to public health and public safety. There is an appetite in the land to address the problem and stem the occurrences.
I should also address the other elements that this bill has added to the debate. Bill C-19 adds, where street racing is proven, the mandatory driving prohibition minimum of one year whether or not bodily harm has been caused and where it was discretionary in all charges before.
The bill does propose higher maximum terms of imprisonment in three of the five street racing offences. The bill does not make any minimum terms of imprisonment. Currently, we know that conditional sentences have been utilized under section 742.1 of the Criminal Code. Judges are permitted and in fact encouraged to utilize, under the sentencing principles of the Criminal Code, less restrictive punishments than incarceration where other factors are not in play.
Case law has developed across Canada on point, going both ways I might add. I raise this because we are currently having a conditional sentencing bill which is now before the justice committee. If enacted as is, it would impact on Bill C-19 if it were passed as is. Essentially, there would be a consequential effect if the higher maximum penalties were passed in this Bill C-19, with the exception of dangerous driving not causing bodily harm or death. Unfortunately, mid-process this is speculative, but I do flag the potential now, as has the Minister of Justice.
It is not entirely clear the intention or message to the courts of how Bill C-19 has been set out. On a scale of seriousness, criminal negligence is considered higher than dangerous operation. The difference between the offences is the degree of carelessness or recklessness in the offence. This is one area that needs to be properly examined if this bill ends up in committee after a vote in this House, which I believe will end up happening.
Bill C-19 puts street racing that constitutes dangerous operation and street racing that constitutes criminal negligence on the same footing. Fine tuning is required here, as has been pointed out by some others. When we try to limit judicial discretion, as would appear to be the pattern of this new Conservative minority government, it creates other, perhaps wholly unintended, consequences. Many authorities, some would say, consider criminal negligence more serious than dangerous driving and we will look at this.
Bill C-19 also holds that when a person is convicted of street racing, the judge would prohibit the offender from driving. This is a mandatory order for a specific period of time. Also different from previous bills and the current Criminal Code is the introduction of a minimum period of one year in the case of each of the five street racing offences. This is driving prohibition.
Under Bill C-19, the maximum and minimum for driving prohibition orders would increase each time a subsequent street racing offence is committed.
Bill C-19 would provide a prohibition of driving orders of the same length or longer than periods now in the Criminal Code of Canada. Further, new subclause 259(3.4) proposes the creation of a mandatory life prohibition on driving. This would apply when the offender has two or more convictions of street racing where someone was injured or killed and one of the street races resulted in a death.
I should note that the driving prohibition order will come after the period of imprisonment. I should also note that the maximum and minimum for driving prohibition orders increase in a very similar fashion as the rules governing driving prohibition orders in cases of drinking and driving.
There is a lot to digest in the details of this bill. This is the initial stage of discussion. It is not the place for any of us to come to firm conclusions. There is obviously agreement that street racing needs to be dealt with by Parliament. The fact that there have been two different governments and continued private members' bills, underscores this to all of us.
Always it is a question of degree. Is one approach better or more practical than another? Can the officers on the ground, the judiciary and the system of justice be given better or more flexible laws for Parliament to utilize? Do some of the clauses in Bill C-19 go too far? What is most important is will this help with community safety? Those are the questions that need to be answered.
We should also examine whether there are some situations that are captured that were not intended. I have already heard from the Canadian Association of Rallysport with suggested amendments since it is concerned that this will negatively impact on its sport activity held across the country.
What about when roads are closed for major professional racing events which normally occur annually in cities like Toronto and Montreal? Would we need to consider specific exemptions or exceptions or do we rely on the charging officer's discretion and judgment, as has been done in the past? Do we really intend to capture racing snowmobiles not close together traversing a frozen lake, for example?
I would like to listen to the comments of other parliamentarians in the House. I believe we come here to do positive work for our electors. We can do the measured work required of us in a respectful manner I would hope.
I am personally inclined to send the bill to committee for further discussion but wish to hear from my colleagues. It is a bill that is not perfect and has some issues that need to be addressed. Not all of the provisions will help the situation and may in fact cause some confusion. The stages for amendments in this House and in the other House are available to us to clear up any of these ambiguities, whether they are real or just misunderstood. Also, we will have the benefit of our witnesses and, hopefully, some experts.
I know from the short briefings I have received from others that there was no wide consultation on the bill. I asked if there were formal studies but was told by officials that none had been done. I am also aware that on January 25, 2005, at the federal, provincial and territorial meetings of all justice ministers, they had agreed to study the matter of Criminal Code amendments affecting the theft of motor vehicles, as well as penalties for those who steal vehicles and drive recklessly.
Bill C-19 is before us now with a limited priority area of street racing and does not address these other issues. However, it is important that we all do our job, as I know we will, and I look forward to working on this bill with my colleagues.
October 2nd, 2006 / 12:05 p.m.
Vic Toews Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
moved that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to lead off the debate on this important government initiative, Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Canadians want a law-abiding peaceful society. They believe in secure streets and neighbourhoods where children can play in safety and where families can go for evening walks. In doing our part to protect our communities, roads and highways, the Government of Canada is taking the issue of street racing head-on.
There have been far too many examples of Canadians being injured or killed because of street racing. On a regular basis there are reports of deaths across the country relating to this dangerous activity. We have seen horrific deaths recently in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg. These risks, injuries and deaths are senseless and do not need to occur.
The criminal law seeks justice, the protection of the public and the establishment and maintenance of social order. Ultimately the purpose of the criminal law is to contribute to a just, peaceful and safe society through the establishment of prohibitions, sanctions and procedures to deal fairly and appropriately with blameworthy conduct that causes or threatens serious harm to individuals and society. Street racers must be explicitly subject to such sanctions and prohibitions.
The criminal law can be, and in this case should be, a tool for shifting public perception. In this regard the message needs to be made clear: street racing is not a game, it is not carefree and it is not harmless. Pure and simple, it kills.
In establishing such a system we must first examine the existing legal scheme on which Bill C-19 would build, namely the way the Criminal Code currently deals with street racing.
The Criminal Codes does not specifically identify street racing as an offence, although certain of the code's offences can apply to fatal and injurious collisions where street racing is involved. These offences are: criminal negligence causing death, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment; dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, which currently carries a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment; criminal negligence causing bodily harm, with a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment; and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm, with a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment. In addition, the offence of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, with a five year maximum imprisonment on indictment, can be applied in cases where a street race has occurred but no one was killed or injured.
In addition, under the Criminal Code, if convicted of any of those five offences, currently the court may order a period of driving prohibition of up to three years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, of up to 10 years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm or death, and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. In the case of criminal negligence causing death, the court may order up to a lifetime driving prohibition.
Despite these existing provisions and the discretionary driving prohibition orders, street races are still occurring and Canadians are still being injured, and tragically, killed.
For this reason the government is doing its part in reinforcing the criminal law in this area and sending a strong clear message that street racing is a crime with real and significant consequences. Creating a separate offence in the Criminal Code will specifically denounce this form of crime. In addition, these proposed amendments permit increased punishments with regard to minimum driving prohibitions and increase periods of imprisonment in street racing situations.
Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act proposes the creation of a specific street racing offence in the Criminal Code based on the offences of dangerous driving, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and criminal negligence causing death. The bill proposes key reforms that would increase, in street racing situations, the maximum punishments for dangerous driving causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm from 10 years to 14 years, and for dangerous driving causing death from 14 years to life.
The government is taking a holistic approach to criminal law reform. In this regard, it is significant to note that the government's conditional sentencing bill, Bill C-9, if passed as is, will eliminate the use of a conditional sentence in those street racing cases where someone is either injured or killed. As we know, conditional sentences are essentially house arrest.
The street racing reforms would also provide minimum driving prohibitions that would increase on each subsequent offence, instead of the present discretionary prohibitions. In particular, the mandatory driving prohibitions range from a minimum of one year on a first offence, all the way up to a maximum of a lifetime driving ban. The minimum driving prohibitions increase to two and three years for subsequent offences.
Of note is the proposed mandatory lifetime driving prohibition. This mandatory lifetime minimum driving prohibition will apply if an offender has two convictions, where someone is injured or killed as a result of street racing, and at least one of these offences causes a death. For example, if someone is convicted of dangerous driving causing bodily harm while street racing and then convicted of criminal negligence causing death while street racing, the lifetime mandatory driving prohibition will apply.
Therefore, Bill C-19 would provide judges with discretion in setting the appropriate length of prohibition, in some cases, all the way up to a lifetime ban, but in every street racing offence, the offender would have a period of mandatory driving prohibition.
Following the introduction of Bill C-19, some have asked, What is street racing and how will the courts interpret such a definition? Clause 1 of the bill defines “street racing” as:
--operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place;
The term “race” is an undefined term in the bill and is therefore meant to be applied by the courts, based on existing common law principles, after an examination of the trial evidence. The courts will turn to context in which the term is used, dictionary definitions of a race, as well as Canadian jurisprudence defining this term. At the end of the day, all sources of interpretation generally point to the common theme of a race amounting to a contest of speed, which will be determined on a case by case basis on the evidence presented at trial.
By the structure of the proposed reforms, the prosecution will be required to prove a race; that is a contest of speed plus dangerous driving or criminal negligence. This construction responds to fear that revving one's engine would amount to an offence. The driving must also meet the existing standards of dangerous driving or criminal negligence in order to attract criminal liability.
Furthermore, by the design of the scheme, if the court is not satisfied that a street race was involved, then the law of included offences would apply. Therefore, if the prosecution has not proven a street race but has proven all the essential elements of either dangerous driving or criminal negligence, then the offender may be convicted of these included offences.
It is important to note that the Criminal Code contains an offence, at section 259, prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle while a person is disqualified from driving. This driving while prohibited offence would also apply if a person drives during the prohibition period imposed for the offences in Bill C-19.
Many provinces have used provincial highway traffic legislation to combat street racing, including provincial fines, licence suspensions and vehicle impoundment. In British Columbia, for example, the province introduced legislation that gave the police the authority to impound, immediately, any vehicle used in a street race. In some matters, there can be federal and provincial constitutional authority, and each level of government may properly enact legislation. In the matter of street racing the provincial legislature has constitutional legislative authority to enact highway traffic and driver licensing legislation against street racing. Parliament may enact legislation against street racing, using its constitutional legislative authority for criminal law.
There have been a number of earlier bills directed at combatting street racing. During the 37th Parliament, the late Mr. Chuck Cadman, M.P., introduced private member's Bill C-338 and reintroduced it as Bill C-230 in the 38th Parliament aimed at this form of crime. These bills provided that the existence of street racing was to be an aggravating factor in sentencing and provided for mandatory minimum driving prohibitions, increasing on second and subsequent offences. I think the Prime Minister said it very when he described Mr. Cadman as “a selfless man who devoted his years in Ottawa to fighting for safer streets”.
Mr. Cadman's bill was built upon the existence of a repeat aggravating factor. However, the dependence on the aggravating factor in the sentencing hearing that involves a prior conviction, in order to trigger an increased penalty for a subsequent offence, raised some concerns. First, there is no reference to street racing in the substantive offence. Second, the CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre, does not report the existence of aggravating factors. Therefore, the Crown would have no consistent way of knowing that a prior offence had involved street racing.
In the 38th Parliament, the previous government introduced Bill C-65, an act to amend the Criminal Code, street racing. It also provided that street racing, if found by the sentencing judge to be present, was to be used as an aggravating factor in sentencing and included mandatory driving prohibitions, although repeat offenders were not subject to increasing driving prohibitions. All these bills eventually died on the order paper. However, given the efforts made by Mr. Cadman and by the former government's response, we are now counting on everyone to support Bill C-19.
The government's bill, Bill C-19, unlike its predecessors, proposes the creation of separate offences and would increase driving prohibitions for repeat offenders. I believe these are necessary components to deliver the message that street racing threatens the safety of Canadians and criminal law consequences, therefore, will be serious.
The frequency of and the conviction rate for offences involving street racing are presently not available at a national level as there is, currently, no systematic way to identify the cases that have involved street racing. One of the indirect benefits of the reforms proposed in C-19 is that the creation of separate offences will allow such data to be captured and monitored in a systematic national way.
As I have noted, in some matters, and street racing is one such matter, there can be federal and provincial constitutional authority and each level of government may properly enact legislation. The provincial legislature has constitutional legislative authority to enact highway traffic and driver licensing legislation against street racing. Parliament may enact legislation against street racing under its constitutional authority for criminal law.
The complementary provincial and federal tools would provide a strong and effective response to the scourge of street racing on Canadian roads and street. I, therefore, compliment the efforts of local police forces in getting street racers off our streets on to closed race tracks. These efforts will no doubt contribute to public safety on Canadian roads and highways.
Safe streets and safe communities are a hallmark of life in Canada. The government is doing its part, through a number of important bills currently before Parliament, to ensure that this fact remains true. The government has made a clear and unequivocal commitment to work toward a safe and secure Canada. This Canada is one in which its citizens can walk the streets without fear of being struck by reckless street racers.
I conclusion, Bill C-19 is a targeted, measured and balanced response to the numerous tragic incidents of street racing occurring on our roads and highways. Although not in and of itself a panacea, this proposed reform will send a clear message that driving is a privilege and that street races are not acceptable. Bill C-19 would also ensure that those prosecuted for street racing would not be permitted to drive for a significant period of time.
I urge all hon. members to join me in support of Bill C-19 and to work together to put an end to this dangerous phenomena of street racing on Canadian roads and highways.
October 25th, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-65.
Call in the members.
(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
October 25th, 2005 / 11 a.m.
David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to stand today to speak to Bill C-64.
A little later in my speech I want to talk about Chuck Cadman, about some of the things he stood for and about some of the things that were important to him, but I first want to talk about an issue in the bill that I find important.
My colleague who just spoke said that it was not really an issue with the bill but I still want to make people aware of it. There is an entire subculture or industry of rebuilding and restoring vehicles such as motorcycles, cars and those kinds of things. My colleague reassured us that they would not be caught in the bill but I am not quite as confident as he is about that.
I want to make people aware of the fact that there needs to be some exception for people who are doing that kind of business. Obviously, we are not talking about people stealing cars off the street in the middle of the night, stuffing them in trucks, taking them to chop-shops and either chopping them down or changing the VINs on them.
It is important for people to understand that an industry has arisen dealing with restoring older vehicles. That industry is not just something that is being done in people's garages any more. It is a multi-million dollar industry. These restored cars are worth anywhere from zero dollars, which is probably the one I have in my shop at home right now, up to $500,000. I think of some of the late sixties' Corvettes, the Shelby Cobras and those kinds of things that are worth a lot of money. Those cars are getting older and their bodies have been wrecked. People want to restore and rebuild the vehicles. They have the frames and the drive trains. We can actually buy new body parts for many of these vehicles.
I have a concern that those people do not get caught in the legislation. I am not confident that it gives that kind of exception. It talks in the bill about having a lawful excuse. I do not see it in federal legislation. I hope it would be included in provincial legislation when it comes to the licensing of vehicles, which is covered by the provinces.
It is typical of the NDP-Liberal government's legislation. So often it comes forward and it does not seem to work. It restricts regular Canadians and allows the people who it should cover to escape from the law.
Chuck Cadman, as we know, was a fairly ordinary guy. He was a veteran MP when I arrived here but he was one of those folks who was going to be himself and was not going to change, and he did that. He stayed true to what he believed. The issues that brought him here were the issues that stayed important to him right to the end of his time here.
Just on a personal level, one of the reasons I got to know Chuck Cadman was because of his music. He was a former musician and played in a lot of different bands over the years. My son was 13 when I was first elected. When we came down here, Chuck was one of the guys who really fascinated him. He had played with the Guess Who and other bands. My son, Andrew was very interested in music. I always thought it was interesting that there were a lot of people around here who had power and prestige but it was actually Chuck Cadman who really appealed to my son and with whom he felt he had some connection.
Chuck was an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things. The things he focused on really were the prime issues, one of which we partially dealt with last week and the other we are dealing with this week, that being street racing and vehicle theft. He dealt with these issues in a very practical and realistic way. It was typical of him that he would not come forward with something that would not be effective, so the bills that he brought forward were effective.
This letter was read into the record a couple of times last week but I want to reinforce it. Someone who was close to Chuck Cadman, a man by the name of Dane Minor, wrote that one of the things that drew Chuck into the political arena in the first place was a visit by a former justice minister to supposedly discuss the Young Offenders Act with Chuck. The man blew into town, spent five minutes getting his picture taken shaking Chuck's hand, and went back to Ottawa saying that meetings with victims showed his government cared about victims and the faults of the Young Offenders Act. Chuck was disgusted. It was incidents like these that led him to become an MP and try to truly change things.
I would suggest that the government, as that justice minister did, has failed to respect Chuck and what it was that he wanted to take place.
I believe that these two bills that we have looked at, Bill C-64 and Bill C-65, are a dishonour to Chuck's memory. They have been watered down and do not cover the issues that he wanted to cover. It is no wonder Canadians get more and more cynical about the government and what it says that it stands for.
Last week we talked about Bill C-65 which addresses street racing. Again, we wanted amendments which held true to Chuck's intentions with the bill. For example, we wanted Chuck's increase in scale of punishment as offences mounted, which was taken out by the government. His bill read:
(a) for a first offence, during a period of not more than three years plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, and not less than one year;
(b) for a second or subsequent offence, if one of the offences is an offence under section 220 or subsection 249(4), for life:
(c) for a second offence, if neither of the offences is an offence under section 220 or subsection 249(4), during a period of not more than five years...and not less than two years;
Those mandatory minimum sentences were important to Chuck.
The fourth part of Chuck's bill read:
(d) for each subsequent offence, if none of the offences is an offence under section 220 or subsection 249(4), during a period of not less than three years plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment.
We see some of the same things happening in Bill C-64. It is an act to amend the Criminal Code dealing with vehicle identification numbers and once again we see a watered down version of Chuck Cadman's intent. The Liberals are basically making a mockery once again of what he wanted and what he stood for.
Auto theft is a growing problem in this country, particularly in western Canada. It is a large problem in Regina. I am from a rural area in southwest Saskatchewan so it is not as big a problem there, but it has been a problem for a number of years in Regina. At one point I was talking to a policeman who said that it was really frustrating to deal with the Young Offenders Act because of the way in which it has been set up. They had a young man in custody who was getting out before his 16th birthday. They said that the young man's goal was to steal 250 vehicles before his 16th birthday and because he was getting out a couple of months before his birthday, they actually thought he would probably make that goal. It is good that young people have goals but that probably was not one of the more laudable ones. Auto theft is expensive to Canadians as well. It costs up to $600 million and at some point we need to deal with it.
Currently, the act of changing, obliterating or altering a vehicle identification number is not a specified criminal act. Section 354 of the Criminal Code treats tampering with a VIN in a context establishing that “in the absence of evidence to the contrary, a tampered VIN is proof of property obtained by crime”, but there is no law dealing with the direct prosecution of a person engaged in the physical act of tampering with that VIN tag. This creates a major loophole for organized crime and it needs to be closed. An effective VIN tampering provision would aid significantly in dealing with organized crime and in the prosecution of organized crime rings, but we do not think this bill would do that effectively.
One of the changes that took place in the bill over Chuck's bill concerns section 377(1), which reads:
Every one commits an offence who, wholly or partially, alters, removes or obliterates a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle without lawful excuse and under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle.
It is important to note that the last phrase,“under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the person did so to conceal the identity of the motor vehicle”, was added to Chuck's bill and really does water it down. Chuck had put the onus of proof for lawful excuse on the person who is indicted, not on the crown.
Once again, we have a bill where the Liberal government had a chance to do the right thing and it has been watered down. It is frustrating. It gives criminals the out they need and it does not give leeway to regular citizens who have legitimate reasons for dealing with VIN numbers. It reminds me of a lot of other legislation we have seen. I think back to the gun registry where a law was made that really has not accomplished what it set out to do. It has left criminals free to operate and has caused nothing but a great deal of expense, time and problems for regular folks.
In conclusion, I would like to read one more statement by Dane Minor in a letter about Chuck. He states:
If the Liberals truly want to honour Chuck Cadman I suggest they pass his laws as written and actually give the police the resources to find out how many previous offences there were. If they don't have the courage to do that, at least have the decency to stop using his name in a self-serving bid to gain political points.