Debates of May 16th, 1996
House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.
- Government Response To Petitions
- Interparliamentary Delegations
- Committees Of The House
- Questions On The Order Paper
- St. Stephen, New Brunswick
- International Centre For Human Rights And Democratic Development
- The New Millennium
- Chinese Canadian Association Of Public Affairs
- The Disabled
- St. Thomas University
- Optimists In Action
- Alliance Outaouais
- Central America
- The Senate
- Norman Inkster
- Lloyd Robertson
- Capital Gains
- National Unity
- Somalia Inquiry
- Quebec Contracts
- Persons With Disabilities
- Presence In Gallery
- Persons With Disabilities
- Canadian Wheat Board
- Experience Canada
- Business Of The House
- Committees Of The House
- Criminal Code
- Message From The Senate
- Criminal Code
Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC
Mr. Speaker, the members of the opposition will vote yea on the amendment.
Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley East, BC
Mr. Speaker, just to confirm, there is agreement with the government whip to apply the vote.
Jag Bhaduria Markham—Whitchurch-Stouffville, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will be voting against the motion.
The Deputy Speaker
Accordingly, I declare the amendment and the main motion lost.
The House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business, as listed on today's Order Paper.
The House resumed from March 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-201, an act to amend the Criminal Code (operation while impaired), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Private Members' Business
Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC
Mr. Speaker, I was very pleased to second the private member's bill proposed by the member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley which would provide a sentence of seven years for the offence of drunk driving causing death.
This is a very serious issue in Canada today. Let us look at what happened in Prince George recently. It was the scene of the murder of a young father from Prince Rupert and his two children. The murder weapon in this case was an automobile with an impaired driver at the wheel.
When the offender was sentenced, the entire community, as well as virtually everyone who heard about it in the province of British Columbia was shocked at the extremely light sentence of three and a half years to be paid for taking three lives.
Judges in British Columbia commonly treat lightly the offence of using a motor vehicle as a deadly weapon. Impaired driving is a very preventable form of death. Sad to say, it is very often our young people who lose their lives for making the tragic mistake of drinking and driving.
For example, in February three young women from the city of Vernon in my riding of Okanagan-Shuswap paid that price when they decided to drive home from an evening's entertainment at nearby Kelowna. They made it only a few miles north of Kelowna before they turned in front of a logging truck in the early hours of the morning. All three paid the price. They died. Their families and friends were devastated.
It is our duty to structure the Criminal Code in such a way that such unnecessary deaths are prevented, along with the murder of innocent victims by drunk drivers. We should send a much stronger message in the sentences handed out for drunk driving offences.
It is not only the young people who like to party. If we could convince them as soon as they start to drive that alcohol and gasoline are an extremely dangerous and deadly mixture, the good habit of not driving when they have been drinking would probably stay with them all their lives.
A poster which hangs not far from the Parliament Buildings says that if you are old enough to drink, you are old enough to drive: Choose one. That is excellent advice. A very good way to emphasize that message would be to include a minimum sentence of seven years for drunk driving causing death.
There are many sad figures available about drunk driving. For example, there were a total of 6,700 alcohol related accidents in British Columbia in 1994, including 3,231 personal injury claims and 138 fatalities. There were 3,331 accidents with property damage and 11,379 impaired driving offences.
In my riding of Okanagan-Shuswap the total number of impaired offences for 1994 was 406. That number only represents the drivers who were caught by police. For every one caught, many more manage to get away with drinking and driving until that fateful day when a child rides his bike suddenly around the corner or a grandmother suddenly steps into a downtown crosswalk or another driver does something a little too fast for the delayed reflexes of that impaired driver.
The cost of impaired driving is not limited to accidents. An estimated $200 million is spent on enforcement, court, medical and other costs in British Columbia as a direct result of drinking and driving. That does not get into the terrible emotional costs to the families. Look at that $200 million and what it could do. It could pay nurses' salaries. It could help provide essential medical
services like kidney dialysis, x-rays or CAT scans. It could be used to provide computers for British Columbia classrooms. That $200 million thrown away because of drinking and driving represents a great loss to the people of B.C.
The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia estimates that 21 cents of every premium dollar is spent repairing damage done by drunk drivers. That is a very important point because most families in British Columbia are having a very difficult time making ends meet. Most B.C. families also own a motor vehicle. It is common for families to spend $3 a day or more just to insure their cars, and 21 per cent of that goes to repair damage done by drunk drivers.
We could say that drunk driving increases the cost of every family's premiums by at least 63 cents a day or $4.41 a week. That would buy every family a couple of litres of milk and a loaf of bread every week. Maybe that is not a big deal to the members of Parliament whose inflated egos make them think they deserve the gold plated pension plan they voted in for themselves. I can assure my colleagues that is a very big deal to the grocery budgets of most young mothers in particular.
The dollar costs of drunk driving are not just the numbers on a sheet of paper. They represent a burden to the family income at a time when most families have far too little income as it is. In large measure this is due to the excessive spending and the resulting excessive taxes imposed by Liberal, Conservative and NDP governments, those advocates of big government.
Let us look at drunk driving causing death in a different way. Are today's penalties doing the essential job of preventing drinking and driving? Those penalties include the following: The punishment for a first offence is loss of privileges and a fine of up to $2,000. The punishment for a second offence is a mandatory jail sentence of 14 days to one year. The punishment for a charge of impaired driving causing bodily harm is a maximum 10-year sentence and 10 years of prohibition from driving, which means they can go into court and bargain it away.
The punishment for a charge of impaired driving causing death carries a maximum penalty which includes a 14-year jail sentence and up to 10 years from driving. I do not know of one case that even touches that point. We just heard about a judge who gave three and half years for taking three lives and yet the opportunity was there for him to give up to 10 years.
A recent tragedy involving the death of a 17-year-old youth in my riding has reopened the question of more severe sentences for impaired driving among the residents of Vernon and area. Because the offender had a history of alcohol related offences, concerned citizens of the Vernon area collected 5,000 signatures on a petition calling for stiffer and longer sentences.
In view of the tragic damage that driving while impaired can cause, I strongly support the requirement of much stronger sentences for drunk driving causing death.
Some people may object, especially on the government side, saying that to impose these kinds of penalties is too harsh. Is it too harsh for taking the lives of a mother, father or children, because the excuse will be: "I was drunk when it happened".
The truth is that most offenders who are guilty of driving while impaired have committed one or more previous alcohol related offences. In other words, for those on the other side who are having trouble with this, in most cases it is not the first time they have been charged. In most cases it is not the first time they had been in an accident. Of course, we have no idea of how many times they also drove while impaired and got away with it. We will never know.
I have always believed that the first responsibility of any government is to protect the innocent and law-abiding citizens to the best of its ability. For far too long we have seen that governments have not lived up to that and it is time we started. I strongly urge that we take the first step by supporting this bill. Having a stiffer penalty may be just the kind of tough love we hear talked about all the time that could save lives. In fact, I strongly believe that if such a penalty had been in effect, maybe we could have saved those three women I talked about earlier.
In conclusion, I would like to remind all hon. members in the House that when they stand to address this bill, they have to face the public. They have to go back and look their constituents in the eye. Believe me, there is not one in this House in our term that will not have a case of death caused by impaired driving before them in their own constituency. I hope they all remember that when the time comes.
Private Members' Business
Derek Wells South Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-201, introduced by the hon. member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley. This bill would increase the minimum sentence for impaired driving causing death to seven years.
I share the member's concern about the serious problem of impaired driving. Indeed, all Canadians share this concern. I would readily lend my support to any measures which would be truly effective in deterring impaired driving. The challenge is finding measures which are effective.
A seven-year sentence can be a reasonable sentence in some circumstances. In some circumstances it may not be enough and in other circumstances it may be too much. I cannot support the bill because I do not believe we should limit a trial judge's discretion in sentencing in this way. The sentence must be proportional to the
gravity of the crime. This longstanding principle of the criminal law is a fundamental principle of sentencing. The proposed amendment would be inconsistent with that principle and for that reason I cannot support it.
The current law provides that the maximum punishment for impaired driving causing death is 14 years imprisonment. In some cases this may not be enough. Bill C-201 proposes a minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment be added to the section.
I am aware that the public is often outraged by the sentences imposed in individual cases, sentences that often do not appear to reflect the severity of the crime, or do not come close to the maximum set out in the code. This is one of the primary reasons for including the principles and purposes of sentencing in the Criminal Code. I am confident that these measures will ensure greater consistency in sentencing for similar offences. The fundamental principle as expressed in section 718.1 of the Criminal Code is: "A sentence must be proportional to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender".
Imposing a minimum sentence for one particular offence in response to public outrage over particular cases where the sentence was considered inadequate is not a long term solution to any of the problems caused by impaired driving. It is not how our criminal justice system should be changed and is not in keeping with the fundamental principles of sentencing.
The issue of minimum sentences was fully canvassed by the government in the mid-1980s before the Criminal Code amendments to the impaired driving provisions were passed in 1985. The 1985 amendments added two new offences, impaired driving causing bodily harm and impaired driving causing death, with maximum penalties of 10 and 14 years respectively. No minimum sentences were provided because a conviction for such offences is based on fault.
To prove the offence it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the impaired driving resulted in the death or bodily harm. Similarly the sentence imposed must also take into account the degree of fault of the offender. For example, if a pedestrian runs between parked cars into the path of an impaired driver and is killed, should the impaired driver receive the most severe punishment permitted under the code? While his impaired driving may have contributed to the accident because a sober driver could perhaps have avoided the pedestrian, it may well be that even a sober driver would not have been able to avoid the accident.
The impaired driver must of course be punished for driving while impaired. However, I would not agree with a minimum sentence approach that ignores the many other factors considered by a judge when drafting a sentence, including the offender's record which may not have included previous impaired driving charges.
We must ask ourselves whether a minimum sentence would deter impaired driving behaviour. I do not believe it would. Our efforts to reduce and ideally to eliminate impaired driving have to focus on early prevention and perhaps even a zero tolerance for drinking and driving. Perhaps we should be considering a reduction of the .08 standard that is now part of the Criminal Code.
In addition to the law, there must be strict enforcement and greater public awareness and education. This is the approach we have been taking in Canada and throughout North America for the past 15 years. This approach has been successful. It has not reduced impaired driving to zero, but significant reduction in the number of charges of impaired driving and impaired driving behaviour have been experienced. We have to a large extent changed the public perception of drinking and driving. It is no longer socially acceptable as it once was. Through the combined efforts of federal and provincial governments and municipalities across Canada, this trend should continue.
Impaired driving is a unique example of where both federal and provincial laws operate. The Criminal Code sets out a range of offences including impaired driving; driving with a blood alcohol content over .08; refusing to provide a breath sample; driving while disqualified; impaired driving causing bodily harm; and impaired driving causing death. Penalties vary with the seriousness of the offence.
In addition to the federal criminal provisions, the highway safety legislation of all provinces imposes sanctions on impaired drivers in accordance with the provinces' responsibilities for driver and vehicle licensing and highway safety. Even before a driver is convicted of impaired driving, some provincial laws impose licence suspensions for up to three months. Upon conviction for impaired driving, a driver's licence will be suspended for a period of six months to five years, depending on the province and the driver's previous record.
Some provinces have legislation to impound the vehicle driven by drivers while their licence is under suspension. The combined effect of these provincial and federal laws has had an impact on reducing the occurrence of impaired driving.
As my colleague has pointed out, when tragedy occurs the inadequacy of the law is often singled out as the cause. Some members seem to believe that so long as a law is transgressed it is not efficient and the penalties are not high enough. I do not share this view and I believe it is a rather naive way of seeing things.
It does not necessarily mean that our laws are to blame because they are infringed. However if our criminal law is in need of reform, I would fully support a comprehensive reform based on adequate research and consultation rather than on a speedy amendment. I know we would all readily support initiatives that could be shown to bring about further reductions in impaired driving.
I should point out that Bill C-17, an omnibus piece of legislation which is awaiting second reading, proposes a range of amendments to improve the criminal law. Included in that package are a number of amendments to improve the impaired driving provisions, including clarification of the provisions regarding mandatory prohibition orders and the use of evidence in blood samples. Bill C-17 demonstrates that this government is prepared to make changes and effective amendments, amendments which follow from adequate research and consultation and which are consistent with the underlying principles of the criminal law.
I do not wish to suggest that our laws are perfect. Indeed there is always room for improvement. The incident the member referred to in his speech during the first hour of the debate on this bill where an individual killed three members of the same family while driving impaired and was sentenced to three and one-half years is a sad one. The judge had the discretion in that case to impose a sentence of 14 years but he chose not to.
All members of this House should work together to develop solutions that will lead to reducing impaired driving. This does not necessarily mean changing the law. It means speaking out against impaired driving at every opportunity, supporting community programs, supporting groups like MADD and PRIDE, spreading the message that Canada does not tolerate impaired drivers.
However the solution is not to take away judicial discretion. If changes to the criminal law are needed, let us do it right and look at the advantages and disadvantages of various options and their effectiveness. I do not believe that Bill C-201 is the solution and I cannot support it.
Private Members' Business
Ed Harper Simcoe Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in support of Bill C-201 which is sponsored by my colleague, the member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley.
In doing so I am aware of an event which took place in this House just 12 years ago, an event which contributed to the death of thousands of Canadians. On April 5, 1984 Private Member's Bill C-229 was allowed to die. With its demise approximately 23,000 Canadian lives were put at risk and many of them did die. Another tragedy is that many of those who died were innocent children.
Why do I bring up a bill that failed to pass 12 years ago? Because Bill C-229 is very similar to the bill we are debating this evening, Bill C-201. Like Bill C-201 the earlier bill sought to do something about the number of people who lay bleeding and dying on roads and highways in ridings all across Canada.
We will hear plenty of statistics in support of this bill but we must never forget that behind each statistic is a story. They are stories such as that of 16-year old Crystal Nyhuis from my riding of Simcoe Centre. During the time that has elapsed since this House failed to pass Bill C-229 in 1984 Crystal and approximately 23,000 others have died from the deadly mixture of alcohol and automobiles and with them have died their dreams.
On June 10, 1994 Crystal's dreams were snuffed out. At 10 p.m. at the intersection of Innisfil Beach Road and the 10th Side Road a drunken driver slammed into the car driven by her boyfriend. Crystal's dreams died that night, her dream of marrying her high school sweetheart and of becoming a social worker. This innocent young teen who was such a good listener and who offered advice that belied her young age was now silenced.
How many more Crystals must die before this House deals in a serious way with the crime of impaired driving? As we look at the statistics of the nearly 1,500 people who die every year in Canada because someone insists on drinking and driving, let us remember Crystal's needless death. Remember also the people left behind. John and Simone Nyhuis remember their beautiful young daughter who died too young.
Following her death, Crystal's parents placed flowers and candles around the grade eight student's graduation picture. Crystal's mom told a reporter that every night she lights the candles: "It is all I have left of her". Summer dawned on that June day in 1994, just as it does for us in this House today, and the thoughts of Crystal's mom turn to her daughter. "I miss the sounds", she said. "Our home used to be packed with teenagers. She would come through the door with five or ten of her friends. I miss her physical presence. There are still days when I cannot believe she is gone".
How many other John and Simones must suffer the agony of losing a child before this House acts to curb the needless slaughter that occurs on Canada's roads? Every six hours across this country a police officer knocks on a door to announce that a child, a mother or a father will not be coming home any more. They have died because the legislators have failed to act.
Some wrongly charge that a law will not stop the needless slaughter on our roads and highways, but let us consider this argument. Partly because of harsher laws enacted in the 1980s, fewer people are dying today. In 1980 the typical sentence for killing someone while drunk was a $500 fine and a 90-day licence suspension. Changes to the law in 1985 which allowed blood sampling of drivers suspected of drinking and driving, along with the addition of new sections to the Criminal Code have all
contributed to a drop in the number of people being charged with impaired driving. But much more needs to be done.
What about the fact that 63 per cent of all people charged with impaired driving are second time, third time and even fourth time offenders? They refuse to listen and about 1,500 people are still dying needlessly across this country every year. In Ontario alone, alcohol is involved in 43 per cent of all motor vehicle fatalities. Because of alcohol related crashes, 565 people died in the province of Ontario in 1993.
It is true that those who murder by using vehicles face a maximum sentence of 14 years. However, every member in this House knows of people in their ridings who get off with sentences of six months. This bill would establish a minimum sentence of seven years so that those who up to now have faced a slap on the wrist for murdering with an automobile will think twice before drinking and driving.
Bill C-201 will deter impaired drivers while suitably punishing those who will kill while impaired. Some will think that the use of the word murder in connection with someone who kills with an automobile is too harsh. I do not think so and neither do John and Simone Nyhuis. I will quote again from the Nyhuis family. "To me drinking and driving is no different than taking a gun and shooting someone", says Simone. Her husband John agrees. He says: "When you get behind the wheel of a car and you have been drinking, that car becomes a lethal weapon".
We as legislators must stop looking upon alcohol as something many of us, including myself, treat as a social drink. While it is a social drink to many of us, I would hope none of us would get so drunk that we cannot speak coherently or walk a straight line and then climb into 5,000 pounds of deadly metal. However, if we or anyone else does and we kill an innocent person then we are guilty of murder, just as if we had shot them with a gun.
How many more people like Crystal will have to die before we realize the seriousness of the crime of drinking and driving?
It is a sad reality that automobile crashes are the leading cause of death of those under 21 years of age. More die as a result of impaired driving related accidents than all other causes combined. What a senseless waste of young lives. What an unforgettable tragedy.
These deaths do not tell the whole story. The Ontario Medical Association estimates that it costs our economy at least $100 million annually to deal with the approximately 100,000 people injured because of impaired drivers.
Behind those injured drivers there are 100,000 stories each year. One of those stories is about Colleen Blair. This 18-year old Ontario girl survived the November 11, 1994 crash that killed her 18-year old friend Raeann McNeely, a victim of an impaired driver. The crash left survivor Colleen brain damaged and unable to walk on her own. She has difficulty controlling her emotions. She has limited memory. Although she is now 21, she is in many ways like a five-year-old. A family member talks about how Colleen's life has been changed by this senseless tragedy: "She had a right to expect she would get married and have kids some day, but now she's 21 and has no life".
At the time of the accident Colleen was studying horticulture. She loved flowers and had a collection of her most artistic arrangements. Now she cannot even remember if she was a student. She needs constant care and is constantly apologizing to her family for being a burden. Because of the brain damage she does not understand that her injuries are in no way her fault.
During the time that has elapsed since the House refused to act on Bill C-229 in 1984, approximately one million people like Colleen Blair have had to suffer needless pain. Approximately one person is injured every five minutes from alcohol related crashes. In the past 12 years since Bill C-229 was killed, our overburdened medical system has paid out over $1 billion to care for the victims of impaired drivers.
How much longer will police officers like Sergeant Fitz Gaylord of the Madoc OPP have to respond to alcohol related accidents that claim so many young lives, such as a recent accident that killed two young men? Sergeant Gaylord described the scene: "A twisted car wrapped around a tree, two bodies laid out on the ground and the ones left in the car screaming that they were going to die".
Coroner Andy Quinn, who pronounced the young men dead on the scene, said: "For me, it is just immensely sad to see these young people dying. I just hate to pull kids out of cars. It is an incredibly hard thing to do and the whole time you are doing it, you are just thinking of the families and the terrible loss of young lives".
Before the House finally acts to send a message to people that impaired driving is unacceptable, how many more mothers and fathers will walk by their son's or daughter's bedroom at night knowing they will never again share the many things they had planned to do together? How many more fathers will never get the chance to walk their daughters down the aisle on their wedding day? How many more mothers will suffer the pain and agony of knowing their child will never come home again? How much longer will we as legislators stand by and watch people die needlessly? We need Bill C-201 to deter people from drinking and driving.
I end my thoughts on Bill C-201 with the words of Arnold Malone, who drafted the bill that was defeated in the House 12 years ago. Mr. Malone said that to stop the carnage on our highways we must start a war against people who drink and drive. Mr. Malone's war analogy still rings true today. Just as the second world war claimed 42,000 Canadians, approximately 23,000 Canadians have died since the House refused to pass Bill C-229 in 1984. Just as the second world war saw 54,000 soldiers wounded, over one million Canadians have been injured as a result of drunken drivers since 1984.
These are the types of figures Mr. Malone also used when he said:
We need another war. We need a war against drunken drivers. We need a war which will place a real deterrent against drunken driving.
More importantly, we must recognize that we all have limits. We must realize that the laws are such that if we are inebriated, we had best seek alternative transportation. In communities all across Canada there are growing concerns that something must be done to curtail the extent of alcohol use while driving an automobile.
Although the House refused to act 12 years ago when a similar bill was before it, we can now ensure that fewer lives are lost because of drunken drivers by supporting Bill C-201. I urge my fellow members to support the legislation.
Message From The Senate
Private Members' Business
The Deputy Speaker
Colleagues, I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed Bill S-7, an act to dissolve the Nipissing and James Bay Railway Company, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.
The bill is deemed read the first time, with second reading scheduled for the next sitting of the House.
The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-201, an act to amend the Criminal Code (operation while impaired), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Private Members' Business
May 16th, 1996 / 6:20 p.m.
Shaughnessy Cohen Windsor—St. Clair, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity speak on Bill C-201, which provides for a seven year minimum sentence for impaired driving causing death.
I share the concerns of the hon. member who sponsored the bill with respect to the problem of impaired driving and I also share the concerns of my constituents of Windsor-St. Clair who see impaired driving as a serious problem.
I see problems with this bill, one of which is its focus on punishment rather than on more efficient and productive forms of deterrence.
The Criminal Code was amended with respect to impaired driving in 1985. At that time the charges of impaired driving causing bodily harm and impaired driving causing death were added to allow for more serious penalties in cases in which injuries or death resulted from impaired driving.
In the case of impaired driving causing bodily harm the maximum is 10 years, and causing death the maximum is 14 years.
At the same time other charges are available to the crown where there is a death involving the use of a motor vehicle and alcohol or drugs. The dangerous driving sections and the criminal negligence causing death sections of the code carry major maximum penalties. It is not uncommon for these sections to be used where alcohol or drugs have been involved in a motor vehicle accident.
In the early and mid-1980s federal, provincial and territorial governments really turned their minds to impaired driving, acknowledging it was a serious social problem. They did this in response to concerns in their own communities. This was because of the cold, hard facts that people were not deterred by criminal penalties and that people and property were being destroyed by the activity of those who drink and drive.
The question of how to deter people from pursuing this decidedly undesirable activity resulted in a concerted effort by governments, non-governmental organizations and even by the beverage alcohol industry to tackle the problem. In this case the beverage alcohol industry should commended because, unlike the tobacco industry which consistently denies there is any health problem in terms of using its products, the beverage alcohol industry recognizes there can be a downside to the use of its products when the use is excessive or when it is combined with other behaviours.
The focus was in part on the Criminal Code at the time. The code was refined with increased penalties and with a range of additional offences to make it more flexible, but also with a range of devices to allow easier prosecution.
The provinces also took steps within their justice administrative powers and in their highway traffic management jurisdictions to deal with the problems. For instance, mandatory licence suspensions are standard on conviction and in some provinces vehicles are impounded for the period of the suspension.
Governments and non-government organizations and industrial groups entered into public education campaigns which research has shown had an effect on the way we view drinking and driving. Although I am sometimes critical of other parties for using
anecdotal evidence, I think it is useful here in this sense. I think we all know examples of anecdotal evidence which support the research I am talking about.
We all know people who today without any embarrassment simply leave their cars at home and take a cab when they are out for a big night on the town or who engage in negotiations with their friends to ensure they have a designated driver.
This change in the attitude toward drinking and driving has been a very effective deterrent, better than any changes in the Criminal Code. We know this from the research that has been done.
I know, however, this has not abolished the problem and I dare say that in spite of some people's desire for a quick fix we will not solve the problem completely. Someone will always have an extra drink and always think they can still drive.
I raise this point to corroborate my belief that punishment is not the only way, indeed not the best way, to deter people and that we are not necessarily in Canada on the wrong path. It is easy to seize on a fixed minimum penalty as a solution to our problem.
Let us look at the other side of the coin. Does a fixed penalty cause any problems in the process? We already know it is not the most efficient deterrent. What we also have consider is that the minimum sentence removes judicial discretion which is necessary to allow courts to take into account the facts of each particular case. I suggest minimum penalties and removing a judge's discretion should not be handed out easily or glibly.
Private Members' Business
An hon. member
Private Members' Business
Shaughnessy Cohen Windsor—St. Clair, ON
For 11 years I, unlike the member who is heckling me, prosecuted criminal code offences for the crown attorney of the county of Essex. During that time I prosecuted an awful lot of impaired driving charges. I would venture a guess that in most jurisdictions crowns, particularly that operate in provincial court, do more impaired driving trials than almost anything else.
Every once in a while cases arose which required flexibility in terms of sentencing. In the case of a simple impaired driving that flexibility is not there. There are prescribed minimums and those minimums have to be followed and in all cases of impaired driving there are some prescribed minimums. There are cases where there is an impairment but where there are other factors involved.
I give an example which has been much heralded in the media which comes out of Windsor and Essex County. We recently had an example of quite creative sentencing. I say with some pride in my community that the criminal bench there deals in a creative way very often with problems. It is the case of Kevin Hollinsky. Mr. Hollinsky is a young man who was out drinking one night with his friends. He drank, he drove and on the way home there was an accident and both of his friends were killed.
The parents of both of these victims came to the court to support Kevin Hollinsky and during the sentencing process the judge decided to accede to a request by defence counsel for a long period of probation and a community service order.
As a result, Kevin Hollinsky embarked on a remarkable community education campaign throughout Windsor and Essex County which members of the Windsor police force, probation officers and others who are very experienced in this area said resulted in a remarkable odyssey and remarkable result.
Last summer in Windsor and Essex County there were no incidents of injury or death as a result of impaired driving among young people. Had there been a minimum penalty of seven years Kevin Hollinsky would have been in jail during that period of time and one wonders how the community would have benefited from that. Instead he has educated hundreds of young people and brought home to them in a very serious, personal and emotional way the disastrous results of the behaviour of drinking and driving.
It is misleading to suggest, as some members have, that judges are flippant in their sentences, that faced with a conviction of impaired driving causing death they routinely slap people on the wrist; the suggestion I heard here today.
The government takes these problems very seriously. We have taken steps to ensure sentences are more consistent across the country. We did this in Bill C-41, which members opposite including some who spoke today opposed on other grounds.
We define principles of sentencing. Sentencing is there to denounce unlawful conduct, to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences, to separate offenders from society where necessary, to assist in rehabilitating offenders, to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community, and to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and the community.
A seven-year mandatory minimum sentence does not meet those requirements of the law. A seven-year minimum mandatory sentence is a quick fix which is intended only to punish. I would suggest that with the principles entrenched in the Criminal Code, we do not need to spell out for judges the minimum that should be imposed in particular circumstances. Instead, we have given them the guidance to exercise their discretion.
I also believe very strongly that we cannot support ad hoc amendments to the code. When the government proposes code
amendments after comprehensive study and consultations we are criticized for singling out certain provisions for amendment rather than undertaking more fundamental reform. These very same members have done that with us.
This amendment seeks to impose a minimum on a single provision of the code, impaired driving causing death. However no similar amendments are proposed for other offences, for example impaired driving causing bodily harm, criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm, dangerous driving causing death or bodily harm. It is not a comprehensive approach. It is a quick fix. I cannot support the proposed amendment.
Private Members' Business
Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley East, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill tonight. Bill C-201 is designed to bring some equity into the justice system. It is designed to bring some certainty of sentencing into the justice system. It is designed to make the justice system just, where someone cannot just shrug and say: "I am sorry. I had too many and I drove over somebody you cared about. Please forgive me, I would like another shot at it, another time down the road".
This is not the only bill before the House which deals with drinking. Another bill brought forward by a Liberal member deals with warning labels on alcoholic beverages. It was brought forward because of the potential and real damage that is done by people who drink to excess, especially by people who drink and drive which we are discussing in this debate.
When people say that this bill is a quick fix so they do not want to support it, I am not sure exactly what line of thinking that is. I believe at least it is a partial fix concerning what must happen, but if it is a quick fix then why do we not try it? It may be quick, it may be over before we know it tonight. We could pass this. If we were to go to people who have suffered a loss because of a drunk driver we would find agreement.
We may wonder whether people are paying attention to what we are debating tonight. Are people in Canada listening? I have a letter which is hot off the fax. It arrived about an hour ago and is written to the sponsor of the bill:
I am writing to you on behalf of the board of directors of MADD Canada to reaffirm to you our support for Bill C-201 requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for impaired driving causing death. MADD Canada and our volunteers and supporters are 100 per cent behind your initiative. We clearly understand the meaning of your bill and have as one of our MADD Canada policies that we will seek mandatory minimum sentencing.
It is my understanding that during the last hour of debate Gordon Kirkby rose in the House of Commons and referred to a letter from MADD Canada indicating that MADD did not support this bill. This letter was written by a member of the board of MADD Canada and was the opinion of this person as an individual and not that of the board. This letter was not approved by the executive committee of the board of directors and was not approved to be sent on MADD Canada letterhead. This individual has been advised of this and has been requested to retract his statement.
I want to once again reaffirm MADD Canada is in support of Bill C-201. MADD Canada is fully aware and understands the content of Bill C-201.
Respectfully submitted, the President of MADD Canada, Jane Meldrum.
People are watching and listening to what we are talking about tonight. I would suggest they are not too happy with some of the arguments about not wanting to do it because it is a quick fix. They do not want to do it because they could what, offend somebody? What is wrong with the Liberals?
I wonder what the reaction would be if 1,500 people a year were killed or were dying from something else. What if it were a new type of cancer? What if 1,500 people were dying every year of some new dreadful disease? What if it were one of the pet projects of the special interest groups who say they need more funding, millions of dollars, to do research into a problem or whatever? Sometimes they are legitimate causes, but what would be the reaction? The Liberals would say: "Let us do it".
Is there a way to stop 1,500 unnecessary deaths and hundreds of thousands of ruined lives? Is there a way we can arrest that? There is, at least partially.
We are not talking about people who have an extra drink on the way home from work. Listen to the statistics. All drivers who are involved in an accident are tested for the alcoholic content of their blood. In 1993 statistics show that 63 per cent of the people tested had not over .08 but over .15. These are not people who miscalculated and had two beers instead of just one. They are sloppy drunks who are driving the roads, causing accidents and running over innocent people.
I wonder which family in Canada has not been affected by this. The very first tragedy I can ever remember as a child is when my two cousins were killed in a car accident. They were snuffed out by a drunk driver who had crossed the double line and hit dead on a carload of kids on their way home from graduation ceremonies. He killed four kids the same age as my older brother. Cousin Dennis and cousin Karen I never really got to know of course but I was there for their funeral. That guy is out on the street again. In those days the sentence was not that long, a year or so. He is still a drunk but I do not know whether or not he has caused other deaths.
All of us have heard anecdotal stories. We have heard the statistics here tonight. It is not just about people who say they are sorry that they were drunk and they deserve a slap on the wrist. It is also about people who are driving while suspended. There was a case back home where a guy was suspended, went to court because he was caught drinking again and was suspended some more. How
can we suspend the guy some more? The guy is just waiting to drive over somebody and cause a death.
The question is: What should we do with somebody like that? A guy causes a death while under suspension so we suspend him some more, tell him not to do it and give him a year in jail. It is absolutely certain he will do it again. That is why the minimum sentence is necessary.
Do not tell me the minimum sentence will not send a message. If nothing else, it will keep those habitual drunks off the road. When they do it once it is not just: "Oh well, you have killed one person and have ruined many, many lives". It will be: "You killed somebody. In this society we still value life highly. You took an innocent life and you are going to pay the price. If nothing else, we are going to stop you from killing somebody for the next seven years".
Right now it is a revolving door. People shrug their shoulders. They are already under suspension so what are we going to do to them? Statistically they have driven drunk dozens of times before they get caught. The only reason they are caught is that they are sitting on top of a bunch of twisted metal with a dead person in another car and finally we have the goods on them. They go to court, everything is plea bargained right down and they get a year in jail. It is not acceptable.
The Mothers Against Drunk Driving who have felt the anguish, who know what it means to suffer a loss, know that this bill is necessary. They are not saying it is a quick fix. It is not the total answer. They are not saying that. This bill will save lives and that is why this bill should pass. I urge all members of the House to listen to the people in their ridings. If they are listening they will vote in favour of this bill.
Private Members' Business
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and add my voice and remarks to those who have already spoken in favour of Bill C-201, a private member's bill put forward by my friend the hon. member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley.
I am not going to get into statistics as a great many have already been cited by my hon. colleagues from Prince George-Bulkley Valley, Okanagan-Shuswap, Simcoe Centre and Fraser Valley East. We could go on all night citing tragic statistics in support of Bill C-201 which would see a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for impaired driving which causes death. It is something that is certainly needed.
As did the hon. member for Fraser Valley East, I too would question why the Liberals are speaking against this piece of legislation. The hon. member for Windsor-St. Clair said she cannot support this piece of legislation because it does not do this or that. What does it do? Certainly it is not the be all and end all. No one said it was. I believe very strongly it is a step in the right direction and it is going to send a clear message.
The hon. member for South Shore indicated that the problem runs so deep that this piece of legislation will not save lives. I dispute that. I think it will save lives. It will send a very strong message to people who get behind a wheel when they are drunk and go on our nation's highways and streets and kill people.
It is a coincidence that in January I wrote a column for my local paper on this very topic. I will read part of that column into the record because it hits at exactly what we are talking about here.
Does anyone else have a problem with the light sentences constantly handed down to drunk drivers? A comparative rap on the knuckles or slap of the wrist, even when their offence leads to massive property damages, injuries or death of innocent people.
I went on to say that perhaps the system might provide some deterrence if the criminals-and these people are criminals; that is what we are talking about here-were sent to work in a bush camp instead of being granted a short stay in some five star hotel that we call jails or prisons in this country today. The article went on:
You know the kind of camps: no running water or indoor toilets. You have to chop your own firewood or you freeze. As for work, there is no shortage. For example, with all the parkland being set aside, I am sure there is a need to clear hiking trails.
I went on to say that the particular individual I was referring to should have to pay back ICBC and the city for the damages resulting from his stupidity.
Does this sound too harsh? Well I do not think so. I for one am sick of our system mollycoddling the guilty. This is but one example of thousands occurring across the country. Drunk drivers who take little or no moral or financial responsibility for their actions. And most Canadians are also beginning to question a justice system that does not seem to hold drunk drivers accountable.
I am reminded of the recent case of David Johnson, 27, of Prince George. My hon. colleague for Prince George-Bulkley Valley also referred to this case. Last September while drunk, he caused an accident that claimed the lives of Jim Ciccone, his 12-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. The prosecutor asked for a sentence of six to eight years. The maximum allowable is 14 years. Judge Ramsay decided three and one-half years would be sufficient punishment. Is that punishment enough for taking three lives?
Following public demonstrations, the sentence is now under appeal. I remember 42-year-old Herman Richards who ran down Amanda Bailey while she was flagging at mile 123 on the Alaska highway in July 1990. Richards had been drinking prior to hitting Amanda in the middle of the highway in the middle of the afternoon. The sentence for Richards was three years and a life sentence of nothing but memories for Amanda's family. The examples could go on and on.
The member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley responded to this type of tragedy with Bill C-201. What is the attitude of the government across the way? Members opposite say the bill does not do this, it does not do that, so they will have to vote against it. Do those members offer something to replace it? Hardly. They offer criticism.
Canadians are starting to realize that what we see here is a government gone soft on criminal behaviour. The member opposite from Prince Albert-Churchill River said in a speech at second reading which was mentioned in a news article in March: "We cannot look at this from a narrow perspective. The objective of the law is that it ought to be reduced impaired driving and if you have stiff penalties but no enforcement, there will be no one obeying the laws".
I say hogwash. Stiff penalties will deter people. If people know they will have to face stiff penalties, as I suggested in my column, perhaps we should be looking at more than only a jail term where they shoot pool, lift some weights and maybe take a course at taxpayers' expense. Maybe if they had to do some work, we would see some real deterrence.