Bill C-376 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.
Ron Cannan Conservative
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
November 30th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations with all parties and I believe you will find unanimous consent of the House to propose the following motion. I move:
That the order for second reading of Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be discharged and the bill be withdrawn.
(Bill C-376. On the Order. Private Members' Bills:)
Second reading of Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts--Mr. Ron Cannan.
Private Members' Business
November 13th, 2007 / 6:35 p.m.
Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON
Mr. Speaker, as a former breathalyzer technician and police officer, I am particularly interested in this most serious matter.
I am pleased to speak to Bill C-376 which proposes to create a new Criminal Code offence of driving a motor vehicle while having a blood alcohol content level in excess of 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.
It does not propose simply to amend the Criminal Code to lower the blood alcohol content from the current 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, or .08 as it is commonly referred to.
The bill was debated for one hour in the first session of this Parliament. Every member who spoke to the bill and I am sure every member of the House agreed with the goal to reduce the death toll and injury on our highways caused by impaired drivers.
However, serious concerns regarding the mechanics of the bill, particularly its proposal to create a Criminal Code ticket and whether it would be used by police, were expressed by members.
For many years, law enforcement and prosecutors have complained about the complexities of the current impaired driving laws, the time needed to process the charge, the length of trials and the number of cases that are lost on technicalities. They have not asked for a lower blood alcohol content.
I am pleased that the government has responded to those concerns. Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, would simplify procedures and restrict defences to over .08 charges to those that have scientific validity. However, Bill C-2 is not a substitute for a complete review of the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code.
As members know, the Criminal Code has two separate and distinct drinking and driving criminal offences. Under section 253(a), it is a crime to drive while one's ability to drive is impaired by alcohol or a drug. Under section 253(b), it is an offence to drive while one's blood alcohol content exceeds .08. The over .08 offence was enacted in 1969, based on a seminal scientific study in Michigan showing that at that level the risk of collision increases exponentially for all drivers, regardless of age, driving experience and drinking experience. The Michigan study has been validated repeatedly.
Recent studies have concentrated on impairment at .05. I believe there is a scientific consensus that indicates a degradation in driving skills and increased risk of accident at that level.
One study concluded that compared with a driver at zero blood alcohol content, a driver at .05 had a 38% greater chance of being involved in a collision. A driver at .06 had a 63% higher risk and a driver at .07 had a 109% higher risk.
To date, Canada has chosen to address the problem of the driver who is over .05 but less than .08 through administrative measures imposed by provinces pursuant to their legislative authority to address licensing matters and matters of the Highway Traffic Act.
All provinces and territories except Quebec already have a roadside suspension for being over .05. I am pleased to say that Quebec has announced that it will soon be introducing a suspension at that level. These suspensions occur without any criminal charge being laid and, therefore, without a trial. They are an immediate and certain road safety measure.
The issue for the House, I submit, therefore, is whether to lower the permissible blood alcohol content to .05 or leave the low blood alcohol content driver to be dealt with by the province, at least until there has been a comprehensive review of impaired driving countermeasures.
The provinces work together through the Canadian Council of Motor Vehicle Transport Administrators or CCMTA, which has a subcommittee on impaired driving. The CCMTA reports to federal, provincial and territorial transport ministers. The CCMTA has endorsed a model of sanctions for driving while being over .05 that would include the recording of violations, longer roadside suspensions, a licence reinstatement fee of $150 to $300 and recording the violation for 10 years so that repeat violators can attract higher sanctions.
If the provinces enact increased sanctions at over .05 level for all drivers as recommended by the CCMTA, Criminal Code sanctions may not be needed. Certainly the provincial administrative sanctions will always be easier to process than a criminal charge. I seriously question whether a police officer faced with—
Private Members' Business
November 13th, 2007 / 6:25 p.m.
Patrick Brown Barrie, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to debate Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. I would like to praise my colleague, the member for Kelowna—Lake Country, for creating a dialogue on this very important subject and for putting this private member's bill forward.
As a volunteer and a past board member of Barrie's local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, I am pleased to address this piece of legislation that will create a new .05% blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, offence. It is in addition to the current .08% BAC which already exists in the Criminal Code.
The new .05% will be an exclusively summary conviction offence with relatively moderate fines and driving prohibitions. It will give peace officers the right to issue a ticket to the accused who can choose to plead guilty without having to appear in court. It will make changes to the Criminal Records Act so that if a person convicted of the new over .05% offence has no additional drinking and driving related convictions for two years, the record of the conviction will be destroyed. Certainly these are reasonable proposals.
Introducing .05% into the Criminal Code would save lives. What many people do not know is that impaired driving remains the number one cause of criminal death in Canada, more than all other causes of homicide combined. In part this is because the current .08% BAC is not an accurate reflection of the true risks associated with drinking and driving.
Who is most at risk? Youth are particularly at risk. The risk of a fatal crash for males between the ages of 16 and 20 is five times more likely at BAC levels of .02% to .049%. At the current .08% to .99% the risk increases to 52%.
When parliamentarians set the .08% BAC level in 1970, they did so based on findings that we now know considerably underestimated the risks of fatal crashes associated with impaired driving. What we know today is driving related skills are significantly impaired at levels well below .08%.
Not only does the research show that a majority of the driving population is impaired in some important measures at BACs as low as .02%, it also has established that occasional drinkers have a higher risk of fatal crash than regular drinkers at the same BAC level.
The British Medical Association has maintained for decades that a .05% BAC is the highest level that can be accepted as entirely consistent with the safety of other road users.
Virtually all leading medical, accident prevention and traffic safety organizations around the world, including the Canadian Medical Association and the World Health Organization, support a BAC driving limit at or below .05%. As a result, many countries, including Germany, France, Australia and Sweden, have set their BAC limit at .05% or lower .
The fact is no amount of drinking and driving is completely safe. And although logically the only solution is to never drink and drive, as legislators we must balance such laws against issues of practicality, of the burden it places on the resources of all levels of government and our police, and the right of the individual to determine his or her own choice to act responsibly.
The .05% BAC will save lives. That is the reason so many public health groups, leading medical organizations across Canada and many victims groups are strong supporters of such a measure.
Studies on the potential impact of introducing a .05% Criminal Code offence in Canada conclude that it will have significant traffic safety benefits. Most important, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in a 1998 study estimated that a .05% BAC would reduce total traffic fatalities by 6% to 18%, a staggering statistic, thereby saving approximately 188 to 551 lives per year in Canada based on the 1998 statistics.
Will .05% adversely affect social drinking? No. An average 200 pound man could drink more than four bottles of beer in two hours on an empty stomach without reaching the real-world threshold for charges under the .05% law. An average 120 pound woman could drink two five ounce glasses of wine in two hours. The assertion that the individuals causing accidents are the ones that exceed the current .08% is not accurate either.
As a deterrent effect, lowering the BAC limit reduces impaired driving at all levels.
In countries such as Germany and Sweden where levels have been legislated at .05% and .02% respectively, the sharpest declines were seen among those drinkers and drivers at the highest BAC levels.
In fact, countries that have instituted a .05% or lower BAC level have seen significant reductions in the number of deaths due to impaired driving and have witnessed a deterrent effect on all those who drink and drive. Therefore, .05% is neither a prohibitionist measure nor is it ineffective in reaching the so-called heavy drinkers.
The current .08% BAC limit is simply not having a sufficient deterrent impact. Millions of Canadians continue to drive while impaired with predictably tragic results.
The current Criminal Code blood alcohol concentration limit of .08% allows individuals to drive after consuming a large quantity of alcohol. Given the margin of error accepted by our courts, most police will not lay criminal charges unless a driver's evidentiary BAC readings are .10% or higher.
When Canadians are informed of these facts and understand the amount of alcohol the current law allows drivers to consume, surveys show that support for a lower BAC limit increases. I believe there is a willingness on the part of Canadians to follow the lead of other countries and set a .05% limit.
The proposed .05% BAC offence is designed to deter impaired driving without being unduly punitive or creating unacceptable burdens on the police and the courts. The option of pleading guilty without having to go to court and the fact that a person can have a charge erased with two years of clean driving may discourage accused drivers from needlessly challenging the charges and consuming court time.
Bill C-376 will add significant weight to the provincial sanctions at .05%.
In all jurisdictions, with the exception of Quebec, there is provincial and territorial short term roadside licence suspension legislation. This legislation does not create any offence or carry any fine or other penalty. In most cases the roadside suspensions are not officially recorded and have no long term licensing consequences. For most drivers the suspension will merely result in having to park the vehicle or allow a sober licensed passenger to drive.
Those who violate the proposed Criminal Code offence would be guilty of a federal summary conviction offence and subject to a mandatory fine and federal driving prohibition. The proposed Criminal Code .05% offence would apply uniformly throughout Canada. The federal sanctions have the potential to have a far greater deterrent impact than the existing patchwork of provincial and territorial short term roadside suspensions.
Those who violate the proposed Criminal Code offence would be guilty of a federal summary conviction offence and subject to a mandatory fine and federal driving suspension, and it would apply uniformly throughout Canada.
The federal sanctions, I believe, would have the potential to have a far greater deterrent impact than any of the existing provincial and territorial ones.
I would like to recognize the board of directors of the MADD Barrie Simcoe chapter for their efforts in raising the education on this issue about the tragic consequences of driving impaired and their work to reduce the number of crashes from this most preventable violent crime. The board includes: president Jason Larkin; past president Kim Butler, who worked hard for years on this; treasurer Norma Scott; secretary Diane Camelino; director of victim services Brenda Wright; youth director Crystal Wiltshire; fundraising director Sari Garner; director at large Gerry Groves; and director at large Staff Sergeant Steve Wilson of South Simcoe Police Service. These volunteers work every month on educating the public on the consequences of impaired driving.
By supporting Bill C-376 we can have a significantly positive impact by reducing drinking and driving related deaths and injury in Canada.
On a closing note, I would like to read a quote given to me by my colleague from Kelowna—Lake Country from a businessman in his riding. Wayne Clements, president and CEO of Tree Brewing/Fireweed Brewing Corporation said:
I certainly agree that drinking and driving don't mix...
I want all Canadians and visitors to Canada to enjoy the great beer and other beverages Canadian companies make. It is up to the individual to police themselves as to how much they choose to drink.
However when it comes to getting behind the wheel of a vehicle after they have drank and having impaired their ability to operate the vehicle and put themselves and others at risk we definitely need to give our police forces and judges more clout to send the message that drinking [and] driving never mixes, regardless of the amount.
That is a very appropriate quote from the president of Tree Brewing/Fireweed Brewing Corporation in the riding of my colleague. It speaks to the fact that all sides of this debate recognize that something needs to be done.
Private Members' Business
November 13th, 2007 / 6:15 p.m.
Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House on behalf of the New Democratic Party to say that we will be supporting this bill.
I will support the bill essentially because it contains important elements, which I will mention later in my presentation.
There are of course problems and things that will have to be worked on at committee. The first step, however, is to discuss the bill's principles in this House. The next one will be to refer the bill to committee, where it can then be improved. In dealing with matters of public significance, one really has to weigh the pros and cons. The pros are all the measures to stop the epidemic of deaths and injuries caused by individuals who consume alcohol before getting behind the wheel. These are important measures to take. Equally important, although secondary, is the issue of jurisdiction. The main issue is the principle of reducing the number of people killed or injured on our roads.
Clearly, in countries where the legal blood alcohol content was lowered from 0.08% to 0.05%, this decision had a positive impact and fewer people were killed or injured. It is obvious that, as parliamentarians, we have to take measures to remedy the situation by lowering the legal BAC so that there are fewer victims on Canadian roads.
It is for those reasons that I rise to speak in favour of Bill C-376 presented by the member for Kelowna—Lake Country. I am certainly glad that he has done so because this is an important piece of legislation.
The NDP in Nova Scotia and in this House traditionally have been in favour of reducing the blood alcohol level that is present in a way that will reduce the number of victims, the number of deaths, and the number of injured on Canada's highways. This is extremely important because all of us as members of Parliament have experience in our particular ridings, in our regions, and our communities with drunk drivers and the victims that they create.
In my own riding, I am near to the Patella Bridge, and there have been a number of victims of fatalities and injured individuals as a result of drunk drivers operating on that bridge, particularly in the evenings and in the early morning hours. Taking this kind of measure helps to reduce those number of victims and that is extremely important.
I would like to pay tribute at this time to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Its headquarters are in New Westminster, on 12th Street, and the lower mainland chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers has done a terrific job of educating the public about victims of drunk drivers. It has spoken about measures that we can all take, educational measures but also legal measures, to reduce the number of victims that we have on Canada's highways.
I certainly join with other members of this House in paying tribute to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. It has made a real difference in our community.
Let us go back to the issue of whether or not reducing blood alcohol levels from .08 to .05 actually makes a difference.
We know that in this country, we actually have one of the highest percentages of fatally injured drivers who are legally impaired. We have .08 as our standard currently, and recent statistics have shown that over 30% of fatally injured drivers were legally impaired.
The United States has similar blood alcohol levels. In fact, in some states it actually ranges higher than .08, and there is a similar percentage of fatally injured drivers who were legally impaired.
However, countries such as Finland, Japan, the Netherlands and Germany that have a lower standard of .05 have actually had much lower rates in regard to the percentage of legally impaired among fatally injured drivers. So in a country such as Finland, with the .05 standard, with a similar cold climate in much of the country, just over 20% of the fatally injured drivers were found to be legally impaired.
That is an important benchmark. Lowering that rate essentially seems to make a difference. In countries that have a .05 standard, the percentage of fatally injured drivers who were legally impaired is lower. That is extremely important.
Let us look at countries that have taken the action of lowering their blood alcohol level limits. For example, in Belgium there was a 10% decrease in traffic fatalities in 1995, and then a further 11% decrease in 1996 when it reduced the blood alcohol concentration limit to .05, so over a two year span there was an immediate reduction in the number of traffic fatalities.
Sweden enacted a .05 blood alcohol concentration limit in the 1950s and it saw a reduction later on, which further reduced that level down to .02. It found that there was a 9.7% reduction in fatal crashes, an 11% reduction in single vehicle crashes, and a 7.5% reduction in all crashes as it lowered the blood alcohol concentration.
In Australia, a 1997 study that analyzed traffic data for periods ranging from 13 to 17 years indicated that those states in Australia that reduced their blood alcohol concentration limits from .08 to .05 experienced positive results right across. Queensland reduced its blood alcohol concentration limit to .05 and there was a 14% reduction in serious collisions, and an 18% reduction in fatal collisions. New South Wales is estimated to have reduced serious collisions by 7%, fatal collisions by 8%, and single vehicle nighttime collisions by 11%. In South Australia there were similar positive results.
In talking about these many examples and getting back to Bill C-376 presented by the member for Kelowna—Lake Country, there is undeniable evidence that reducing blood alcohol concentration saves lives and stops injuries. It is a no-brainer. It just makes common sense. If we have seen in country after country, in local jurisdiction after local jurisdiction that lowering the blood alcohol concentration limit has saved lives, has reduced the number of crashes, has reduced the number of injuries, why would we not support the bill? It just makes good common sense. Fewer victims, fewer injuries, fewer deaths. It makes good sense to support the private member's bill put forward by the member for Kelowna—Lake Country.
Some concerns have been raised around summary convictions. Some concerns have been raised around consultation with provinces. There are perhaps some wrinkles to iron out in the bill itself, but those are issues that can be dealt with more properly in committee. Our task today is to simply say yea or nay on principle.
In this corner of the House there is no doubt that the principles of the bill, to reduce the number of deaths, to reduce the number of injuries, to save Canadians the heartache that comes from having drunk drivers on the road, need to be supported and the wrinkles can be ironed out in committee.
Private Members' Business
November 13th, 2007 / 5:55 p.m.
Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kelowna—Lake Country for bringing this matter before the House of Commons.
All Canadians and all members of the House are concerned about the damage and the havoc that can be created with drinking and driving irresponsibly.
My own view is the bill does not really address the real core issues. It does not address the incidence of the types of accidents caused by chronic drinkers and drivers, those people who drink well in excess of .08. They put their lives and the lives of others in jeopardy by getting behind the wheel of a car. It creates havoc on our roads. These are the people, the repeat offenders, who we should address.
We already have some very good sanctions in place at the provincial and territory level. In nine out of ten provinces it is an offence to drive with a blood alcohol content level of .05 or over. The tenth province, the province of Quebec, announced its intention to introduce similar legislation this fall. The law allows for the immediate roadside suspension for anyone caught with a blood alcohol content level over .05. In Saskatchewan is .04.
The benefit of this approach is the sanctions can be handed out by police immediately without all the time and cost of a court proceeding. To criminalize these offences at the .08 or .05 level is unduly harsh. It will clog up our courts and prosecution. We already know about the dangers and the problems we have with Crown prosecutors plea bargaining because our courts are already filled with people who are committing particularly heinous crimes.
If it were justified, I would support it. However, in my view it is not supportable, given that the real problem is the chronic drinkers, those who reoffend, those who continuously take their lives and the lives of others in their hands.
How many times have we read in the paper about someone who has been charged with drinking and driving and may have been fined extensively. They get back on the road, drink and drive again and are given a slightly harsher penalty. Maybe their driver's licence is suspended. Then they drink and drive again, repeatedly. We need to deal with those people, not the casual drinker.
Every now and then people make a mistake. They might have two or three beers and suddenly find themselves with a criminal charge, which will be with them forever. This may impair their ability to advance in life and become a contributing member of society. I do not think that is warranted in this circumstance.
I am not arguing that drinking and driving irresponsibly is not a very serious matter; it is. That is why the provinces, rightly, have imposed pretty serious restrictions and sanctions at the provincial level.
I should also add that Bill C-2, which is currently before the House, also brings in tougher sanctions for repeat and chronic drinkers who drive. That is the way to deal with it. People who are chronic offenders could be put away for up to 10 years. Those who drink and drive while their licence is suspended should be treated particularly harshly, and Bill C-2 does that.
Bill C-2 also deals with the question of drug impaired driving. This is a reality we are facing as well. Many people today know police can pull people aside and do a breathalyzer test. They have the technology to detect if someone is over .05 or .08.
The reality is the technologies are not there to put in place a regime that recognizes people are taking drugs and driving. In fact, I think we are finding that people of all ages are saying they can beat the rap by having drugs or maybe a mixture of drugs and alcohol.
When the police pull them over, it is easy to tell what their alcohol content is through a breathalyzer, but it is very difficult to determine whether someone has ingested drugs. In fact, they might have had prescription drugs for some illness and given the technologies we have today, it is very difficult to determine whether someone has a prescribed drug or even an over the counter drug, or whether it is a mix of that plus marijuana, some cocaine, crack, heroin or whatever.
Bill C-2 attempts, and I think rightly, to put in a regime that deals with drug impaired drivers, but the reality is it is not a simple matter. We should also focus equal attention on drug impaired driving.
Some in this debate have said that by introducing the legislation before us, Bill C-376, we would be in line with other jurisdictions. With respect to those who said that, the facts say otherwise. A study was done of international drinking and driving laws in 77 comparable jurisdictions, sponsored by the Canada Safety Council, by an independent, respected organization. It found that only eight jurisdictions treat a .05 driving offence as a crime.
The study also has found that in most international jurisdictions a .05 driving is an administrative offence, not a criminal offence. I think the reason for that is for the reasons I outlined. We cannot slap people with criminal records for every crime that is committed otherwise we would be creating a lot havoc within our society.
The member who introduced the bill has the right intention and is motivated for the right reasons. However, I would draw him to the fact that the Canada Safety Council does not support the bill. It says that there is insufficient proof that the bill will have a positive impact on the number of serious accidents. This is a very serious negative evaluation of the bill from an organization that is well qualified and should know what would work and what would not.
While I think the intentions of the bill are good, and we are all concerned about this problem, Bill C-376 takes us in the wrong direction. What we need to focus on is the hard core drinkers, those who continually get in their cars, drink and drive or take drugs and drive. At the provincial level, we have seen a lot of activity with road checks, bringing people over and checking their blood level content. Now with this new regime for drug impaired driving there would be a similar approach.
The way I understand that would work, under Bill C-2, and I know we studied this at the Standing Committee on Justice, is there would be sort of a three-legged test. First, if people are driving in ways that looks like they are driving dangerously, police officers will pull them aside. They will ask them to do a simple test like walk a straight line. If they cannot do that, they will take a sample on-site of their breath or some other sample from their body and that will be checked by a technician. If that proves to be a problem, the sample will be put through a full laboratory test. If those three tests are there, if the person fails those three tests, they will be then charged with drug impaired driving.
That is a positive development in Bill C-2. It is the direction we should go. Our party supports that and also the tougher sanctions for chronic repeat offenders, those who drink and drive repeatedly. Those are the people we need to address.
Private Members' Business
November 13th, 2007 / 5:40 p.m.
Ron Cannan Kelowna—Lake Country, BC
moved that Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise to address the House of Commons this evening to debate Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I table this bill on behalf of my constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country to try to address a problem that concerns them and concerns me as a member of Parliament and, not least, as a father of three daughters, two of them still teenagers and thus part of a demographic that is particularly vulnerable to the tragic results of drinking and driving.
On February 6, my colleagues and I had the honour to rise and debate this bill. Here today we do so again, this time with the benefit of discussing the points of debate that were raised previously.
In that first hour of debate, it was clear that all members agree in principle that drinking and driving is dangerous and that too many innocent people have paid too high a price. About 1,350 Canadians die each year in alcohol related motor vehicle crashes. Many thousands more sustain serious injuries. It is estimated that the annual costs associated with health care, damaged property and lost wages resulting from crashes involving alcohol exceed $5 billion.
Other statistics are equally serious.
Drinking and driving is responsible for about 40% of all fatal motor vehicle crashes. More than four million Canadians admit to driving after drinking. About 12.5 million car trips were made by people who thought they had too much to drink but failed to take the right steps to protect themselves.
Clearly we as legislators have a responsibility to find a way to reduce the risks of drinking and driving on Canadian highways. Let us be clear. This is not an easy task. This particular bill does not work for everyone.
There is disagreement among the provinces, among members of Parliament and even among police enforcement agencies on how to best achieve our goal of reducing the fatal and injurious incidents caused by drinking and driving, on how to have a consistent law across the country, and on how to best help law enforcement carry out the law.
I am well aware of this and I am willing to work with my colleagues to find the best way to reach the goal. We may disagree with the “how“, but we can all agree that we need to do something.
As the bill currently stands, Bill C-376 will create a new .05 blood alcohol concentration, otherwise known as the BAC allowance. This offence is in addition to the current .08 BAC that already exists in the Criminal Code.
Within this legislation that is being proposed, the new .05 limit will be an exclusively summary conviction offence with relatively moderate fines and driving prohibitions, will give peace officers the right to issue a ticket to the accused, who can choose to plead guilty without having to appear in a court, and will make changes to the Criminal Records Act so that if a person convicted of the new .05 offence has no additional drinking- and driving-related convictions for two years, the record of the conviction will be destroyed.
My colleagues have raised concerns that .05% could target the wrong drivers. These concerns are echoed by some in the alcoholic beverage industry. Their concern is that people who enjoy alcohol responsibly, rather than hard-core drinkers, would be targeted by the .05% BAC. These concerns are shared by some of my own constituents. I empathize with them. I understand. We are working together.
An example of this is a letter that appeared in the local paper in my riding, the Kelowna Capital News. A constituent wrote that lowering the blood alcohol content to .05% would succeed only in stopping people from going out to dinner and enjoying a drink with a meal and would fail to curb heavy drinkers, who he believed caused the majority of accidents and could not be deterred.
In fact, these are common misconceptions. Research supports the fact that a lower blood alcohol content does not impede one from enjoying a drink with dinner or going out with a few friends after work and having a few beverages. In fact, few people understand the amount one can drink and still come under the .08 limit.
At the current level of .08, the average male of 200 pounds can drink six bottles of beer on an empty stomach over a two hour period, get behind the wheel of a car and likely not be charged for impaired driving. That is half a dozen beer. I do not know if a lot of people realize that this is the situation today under .08.
In contrast, a blood alcohol content of .05 requires that a person cut those drinks back to four or have a few less glasses of a beverage of choice, which I think we can all agree has no impact on the enjoyment of going out for dinner and enjoying a drink. This has nothing to do with drinking. It has to do with the fact that with drinking and driving there is no safe level. We need to be responsible Canadians. With rights come responsibilities.
Second, the assertion that the drunks causing the accidents are the ones who exceed the current .08% is not accurate. As a deterrent effect, a blood alcohol concentration of .05 reduces impaired driving at all BAC levels. In countries such as Germany and Sweden, which have legislated at .05 and .02 respectively, the sharpest declines were seen among those drinkers and drivers at the highest blood alcohol concentration levels.
The .05 BAC, then, is not a prohibitionist measure and it is effective in reaching the so-called heavy drinkers. In fact, countries that have instituted a .05 or lower BAC have seen significant reductions in the number of deaths due to impaired driving and have witnessed a deterrent effect on those who drink and drive.
When Canadians are informed of these facts and understand the amount of alcohol that the current law allows drivers to consume, surveys show that support increases for a lower blood alcohol concentration limit.
Certainly a key component in the debate is education and changing the public's attitude to what is acceptable. In Canada, one organization in particular has a profound impact on educating the public and raising awareness of the harm that is the result of drinking and driving. I am sure it is no stranger to our colleagues in the House and to Canadians in general. The organization is Mothers Against Drunk Driving, otherwise known as MADD Canada. It is a grassroots organization that is the driving force behind the .05 offence and having such a law practised consistently across the country.
At the heart of MADD Canada are the mothers, the fathers and the friends who have suffered great loss because of a drunk driver.
Earlier this year, I met with MADD's national president, Margaret Miller. On May 16, 2004, Margaret's life changed forever. Her son, Bruce, was killed in an impaired driving incident in Caledonia, P.E.I. Bruce was a police constable with the Springhill Police Service. Like so many of MADD's volunteers, within months of Bruce's death, Margaret was speaking in high schools and became a volunteer with MADD.
MADD Canada has long supported this cause through the very successful red ribbon campaign. Over four million of these red ribbons have been distributed. I encourage my colleagues in the House to lend their support for the official launch of the 2007 campaign which will take place Thursday, November 15, on Parliament Hill. I wish MADD all the best as it continues in its efforts to fight against impaired driving. In the words of MADD, we have a long way to go to stop impaired driving.
Canadians might believe we have some of the toughest laws anywhere, but in fact far fewer drunk drivers are charged here than in the United States. Canada's charge rate of impaired driver arrests is less than half that of the United States. Other countries give their police forces much broader enforcement powers, with the result that they have higher apprehension and detection rates than Canada. In Sweden, for example, 90% of drunk drivers who end up in a hospital are convicted. In Canada, that figure is only 11%.
We have to ask ourselves: is the current .08 blood alcohol concentration in the Criminal Code enough? Does it accurately reflect the true costs associated with drinking and driving? Does it send an adequate message to Canadians that no amount of drinking and driving is safe?
When parliamentarians set the .08% BAC in 1970, which is still today's legislation, they did so based on findings that we now know considerably underestimated the risk of fatal crashes associated with impaired driving. Not only does today's research show that a majority of the driving population is impaired in some important measure at as low as a .02% blood alcohol concentration, it has also established that occasional drinkers have a higher risk of fatal crash than regular drinkers at the same blood alcohol concentration.
The fact is that no amount of drinking and driving is completely safe, and although logically the only solution is to never drink and drive, as legislators we must balance such laws against the issues of practicality, of the burden it places on the resources of all levels of government and our police, and of the right of the individual to determine his or her choice to act responsibly.
The evidence shows that a blood alcohol concentration level below .05% is a responsible limit. However, it is only part of the solution. Setting lower limits makes sense, but how we enforce lower limits is also critical. If this debate is to achieve anything, it is that it will answer this question: how should we enforce the law effectively?
Concerns have been raised about how best to deter drivers from drinking and driving, and these concerns must be addressed, for experience tells us that without agreement on the way forward, we will not succeed in our goals.
I am aware that many of the provincial governments are concerned that by adding a .05% BAC to the Criminal Code the measure will unduly burden some of the provinces, the courts and our police. I do not think anyone can argue that it certainly will change what is now the current practice.
In closing, at the moment, all provinces with the exception of Quebec have provincial and territorial short term roadside licence suspension legislation. This legislation does not create any offence or carry any fine or other penalty. In most cases, it is a four-hour to twenty-four hour suspension. The car is parked. Someone has to drive the driver home or the driver can take a cab home.
Bill C-376 would add significant weight to the provincial sanctions at .05% blood alcohol concentration. More importantly, it would apply uniformly throughout Canada. We need to study this issue thoroughly and agree to find tools to achieve a reduction in drinking and driving.
I would like to honour my colleagues who also have brought this issue forward: the member for Cariboo—Prince George; the member for Langley, B.C.; Senator Marjory LeBreton; and of course the late Chuck Cadman, who was a strong advocate on this issue of drinking and driving.
I look forward to working with my hon. colleagues to find a way to reduce impaired driving in this country and to make our laws tougher to send the message that drinking and driving is unacceptable and, in doing so, reduce unnecessary deaths of Canadians.
Criminal Code--Bill C-376
April 27th, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations and I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
That, notwithstanding the Standing Orders or usual practices of the House, on Tuesday, May 1, 2007, private members' business shall be suspended and Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, shall be dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence; and at the time for the beginning of private members' business the House proceeds to the adjournment proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38(1).
Private Members' Business
February 6th, 2007 / 7:10 p.m.
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
I also would like to congratulate the member for Kelowna—Lake Country for being very proud of his heritage and, I would say, his cultural icon, which is what I would call Napa North in the Okanagan, Osoyoos and other winemakers in the area who truly make the Okanagan a national treasure.
If I may move from championing the delicate and notable passion for spirits and wine to the abhorrence of the abuse of alcohol in speaking about Bill C-376, I do so now by way of background.
This past week, a provincial court judge, Judge Sylvio Savoie, rendered a decision giving a repeat drunk driver in my jurisdiction of Moncton a sentence of five years in prison when the prosecuting team only asked for four. This case is illustrative of what the problem with impaired driving is. We have a problem of repeat offenders, people who are not sensible, who do not seem to react to the penalties and who continue to drink and drive.
Last year a couple was killed on Salisbury Road outside of Moncton because of the actions of a drunk driver travelling in the opposite direction who had a previous conviction under the laws of Canada for impaired driving and who had been seen before the accident wavering in the traffic but who was not caught in time to save the destruction of this family. This couple had two children who are now orphans.
We have a problem of resources of policing and detection of people who are drunk and driving. We have a problem generally, therefore, of deterrence. The question that remains about Bill C-376 is whether this very well intended law will be effective in deterring drivers from getting behind the wheel drunk and whether it will be effective in keeping our communities safe.
In addition to lauding the efforts of the hon. member, I want to laud the efforts of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which, in addition to initiatives such as this, has suggested over the years more vigilance in the detection of impaired drivers, more resources for policing so the detection can take place, and certain advanced suggestions, such as installing ignition controls for those who are repeat offenders in the realm of impaired driving for people whose BAC, blood alcohol limits, have been elevated before as found in the courts of law.
We do have some concerns with the bill. If the bill is presented to the justice committee we hope the hon. member will take some counsel, not only from the committee but perhaps from the speeches in the Commons this evening and at another time, and perhaps listen to some advice with respect to how to make the bill passable, effective and perhaps even better so that his objectives can be met.
One of the suggestions that seems very clear to us is that the criminalization of the activity has some enduring effects that may go beyond even his intention of punishing the drivers who are driving impaired and, more important, deterring such activity in the future.
While we know that the bill as stated attempts to expunge the record of a person convicted of an offence under the bill after two years of essentially non-criminal activity behind the wheel, we also know that our neighbours to the south and, indeed, internationally treat the record of having had a criminal conviction differently.
In Canada we have a system of pardons that work well with respect to federal and provincial institutions. It does not, however, work currently at the border we have with the United States of America. Unless the member can demonstrate otherwise to the committee and work assiduously to help us in this regard, somebody convicted of the offence of .05 might be faced with the prospect of being banned for life from going to the United States of American because of being convicted under this offence.
What I think the member is attempting to get at is to deter people from getting behind the wheel. He is trying to do it in a sensible way by lowering the threshold to stop people from drinking and driving. I do not think he is intending to ruin people's lives forever by instituting this law. That must be addressed.
We must also take into account what the experts are saying. While my friend in the New Democratic Party says that studies are replete with the effectiveness of .05, he may be mistaken, and the committee will delve into this should the bill be forwarded to committee, between the difference of a bill which criminalizes the activity as opposed to the various provincial statutes that are in place which have very deleterious effects on a person's ability to drive in the future, as opposed to criminalizing the activity.
It is very important to remember that 9 out of the 10 provinces and three territories already have deleterious effects for driving over .05. This stops people from driving for a period of time which is a good deterrent for most people and is certainly very preventive to the public.
I add the Canada Safety Council's words and those of the eminent law professor, David Paciocco, who has opined on this subject, to suggest that internationally the trend toward criminalizing activity is not where the world is going. The trend toward lowering levels for detection and deterrents with civil consequences, losing a driver's licence and privileges, is where the effectiveness resides. It is the trend which I urge the hon. member to look at.
Mr. Emile Therien, former president of the Canada Safety Council, said on another plane that the most egregious cases of impaired driving deal with people whose blood alcohol content is sky high. The two cases I have mentioned in the course of my comments were such cases: excessively elevated blood alcohol content, repeat offenders seemingly not deterred by the most severe sentences, certainly over .08.
Mr. Emile Therien said that the priority must be to prevent alcohol related crashes, not just to punish drinking drivers. He said that most drivers involved in alcohol related fatal crashes have BACs over .15. That is the group the government should focus on.
Private Members' Business
February 6th, 2007 / 7 p.m.
Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise and speak today to Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
The bill proposes to create a criminal offence for having a blood alcohol concentration exceeding 50 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood or being over 50 as it is commonly called.
I would like to take this moment to congratulate the hon. member and my colleague here from Kelowna—Lake Country for bringing this legislation forward. I know he has worked closely with Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada on the drafting of this bill.
Combating impaired driving is a non-partisan issue. Repeatedly, all parties in the House have cooperated to amend the Criminal Code to make its provisions more effective in detecting and convicting those who drink and drive.
Indeed, the House currently has before it Bill C-32 in which the government has proposed major amendments that respond to concerns that have been expressed by law enforcement and prosecutors for many years.
I expect that all parties will consider carefully the presentations that will be made in committee by witnesses and we will work together to craft amendments if it becomes apparent that Bill C-32 could be improved.
If it should be the will of the House that Bill C-376 receive second reading and be referred to committee, I trust that the committee will have the same attitude toward this private member's bill.
If it is clear that this bill or this bill with amendments will be an effective tool in the fight against drinking drivers, then I am sure it will be supported. However, there are many issues that will have to be considered before a decision can be made.
It is important that we make the best use of our limited police, prosecution and court resources in this field of policing and criminal justice as we do in all other areas. We need to determine whether a Criminal Code offence for being over .05, combined with provincial administrative measures, is the best way to deal with low blood alcohol content drivers.
When Bill C-376 was tabled, Mothers Against Drunk Driving issued a press release supporting it and explained its benefits. The bill does not simply amend the code to substitute the over .08 with the over .05. Instead, it introduces new elements.
First, the new offence would be enforceable by a ticket.
Second, the penalties for the .05 offence would be less onerous than those for the .08 offence. A first conviction would be punishable by a $300 fine and a 45 day federal driving prohibition. Subsequent offences would be subject to a $600 fine and a 90 day federal driving prohibition.
Third, offenders who did not have a subsequent impaired driving conviction within two years would be deemed not to have a criminal record for the .05 offence.
As Mothers Against Drunk Driving stated in its release:
In summary, the proposed .05 BAC offence is designed to deter impaired driving without being unduly punitive or creating unacceptable burdens on the police and the courts. Moreover, the option of pleading guilty without having to go to court may discourage accused persons from needlessly challenging the charges.
Those are worthy goals, but I would ask members to also consider certain issues with respect to the proposed offence and the way it would be enforced to determine whether the goals would be achieved.
I believe that having less punitive measures for over .05 than for over .08 is appropriate. In the paper “BAC to the Future,” also on MADD's website, there is a table showing that a male who is 35 years of age is at three times the risk of a fatal crash at blood alcohol contents of .02 to .049, six times at blood alcohol contents of .05 to .079, and 11 times from .08 to .099. The risk rises exponentially with every drink thereafter. A 35-year-old male driver in the .10 to .149 blood alcohol content range is 29 times as likely to be in a fatal accident.
Proponents of criminal sanctions beginning at .05 suggest that the greatest safety gains might come not from deterring the social drinker but by convincing those drivers who have been driving at high blood alcohol contents to take one or two fewer drinks. They are still a danger to themselves and others but, if we follow the curve, they are less of a danger.
Obviously there will always be a degree of arbitrariness in setting a criminal level for blood alcohol concentration. The person who has a blood alcohol concentration of .079 is essentially at the same level of risk as the person who has a blood alcohol content of .081. However, the first has not committed a criminal offence and the second has, although the police would probably not lay a charge where the person is that marginally over.
One benefit of a new .05 offence is that these drivers would face something more serious than a brief suspension imposed at the roadside. Members would need to decide whether making over .05 a criminal offence is appropriate given that they are a greater danger than the sober driver but not as dangerous as the driver who is over .08.
If it is considered appropriate to make over .05 a criminal offence, members will need to consider the merits in the creation of a ticketing regime under the Criminal Code as is proposed in Bill C-376. The idea is innovative and the drafters have developed a detailed proposal. I suspect that when most of us hear about a ticket we think about a speeding ticket filled out at the side of the road. The police officer gives the ticket to the driver and they both go on their way. One is happy and one is not so happy. The police submit the ticket and the driver can either mail in the stipulated fine or contest the ticket. If the driver does nothing, he or she will be found guilty and the province will take measures to collect the fine.
This proposed ticket in Bill C-376 is very different. Criminal Code convictions are based on an approved instrument reading at the police station, not on the reading of a screening device used at the roadside. Failing, the screener gives the officer reasonable grounds to demand that the driver come to the station to be tested on the approved instrument.
To prove the new over .05 offence, the police would need to take the driver to the station. They also would need to fingerprint the driver so that the police information system can keep track of the convictions. Moreover, the driver would not be able to simply mail the fine in. The driver would need to attend at a court within 21 days to pay the fine and have imposed a prohibition from driving.
In these circumstances, I question whether this ticketing scheme will be used very much by the police. When they stop the driver who blows under .08 but over .05 at the roadside, will they take the driver back to the station and wait around while he consults counsel? I suspect the officer will be more likely to impose the short provincial roadside suspension in order to leave him or herself free to deal with much more dangerous drivers with high blood alcohol contents.
In summary, Bill C-376 addresses a serious concern and it should be given due consideration by this House. However, we must hear from the police, prosecutors, provincial licensing officials and all stakeholders. We must ensure that any change we make will work on the ground.