House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was driving.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (alcohol ignition interlock device programs), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code
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December 7th, 2001 / 12:05 p.m.

The Speaker

When the debate was interrupted for question period, the hon. member for Vancouver East had the floor. There remains 14 and one-half minutes in the time allotted for her remarks.

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12:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have concluded my remarks and have nothing further to add.

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12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute some remarks to the debate on Bill C-46, an amendment to the criminal code dealing with alcohol ignition interlock devices. I also appreciate the opportunity to express my gratitude to the government, which is something in my eight year history as a member of parliament that I have seldom had the opportunity, or one may even say, the will to express. I do thank the government for belatedly moving on this very important issue.

As has been said by a number of opposition members who have spoken to the legislation, there is universal support for it by all parties in the House of Commons. That is why there is agreement to move expeditiously today to deal with all stages of the bill and see it sent to the other place as quickly as possible.

The issue is of importance to me as an individual parliamentarian. I introduced a private member's bill on the issue on October 27, 1997, over four years ago, Bill C-266. For the interest of the House I will read the summary of Bill C-46, the legislation we are debating today, an act to amend the criminal code (alcohol ignition interlock device programs) and the summary of the bill I presented four years ago.

The summary of Bill C-46 states:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to allow the court to authorize repeat offenders subject to driving prohibition orders to drive, if they register in a provincial alcohol ignition interlock device program. The enactment provides that no authorization has effect until a minimum period of prohibition has been completed of 3, 6 or 12 months for a first, second or subsequent offence, respectively.

Bill C-266, an act to amend the criminal code (alcohol sensing ignition control for automobiles), had first reading four years ago on October 27, 1997. The summary of that very short bill stated:

The purpose of this enactment is to allow a judge, in sentencing a person for an impaired driving offence, to suspend part of any fine, imprisonment, prohibition or probation order if the offender undertakes to install an alcohol-sensing ignition control on every motor vehicle the offender operates. Failure to comply with the undertaking would reactivate the suspended part. The court may also make such installation a condition of a probation order.

As I said, I commend the government for moving on this issue. It certainly is something that has been supported not only by me by putting forward private member's legislation, but by a lot of people over the last number of years. I think it was the member from the New Democratic Party who referred to the CBC program Marketplace . Back in 1996 and 1997, in a similar timeframe to when I was drafting my bill, it did programs on the issue and how it would help to keep dangerous drunk drivers off our nation's highways and roads.

The issue is why it takes the government so long to enact something which obviously has universal support among all parties.

As previous speakers have said, it is something that unfortunately does not happen very often in this place. Given the seriousness of a lot of issues facing Canadians from coast to coast, we would think we would see more legislation coming forward that could be unanimously supported and put through this place in a timely fashion. However that does not seem to be the case.

It is especially important, as others have noted, that the legislation would receive all party support at this time of the year. Everybody is well aware that one of the unfortunate byproducts of the holiday season is an increase in the number of people who drink and drive. The unfortunate reality is that we also see an increase in the number of injuries and fatalities on our nation's roads because of that.

It is almost rare to find a Canadian family that has not through its extended family and friends suffered a serious injury or a death from drinking and driving. Young people are paralyzed and spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs because either they were hit by a drunk driver or they made the tragic error in judgment of getting into a vehicle where the driver was impaired. They pay an horrendous price for it.

It is appropriate that the government has chosen to bring forward the legislation because of the particular time of year. It is also appropriate that all parties in the House would be supportive of it.

I would like to explain the alcohol ignition interlock device. It is a sophisticated breath alcohol testing instrument which is installed in a vehicle in such a way that links its operations to that of the electrical ignition starter and other onboard systems in the vehicle. The instrument is similar in size to and closely resembles a microphone or car phone. Users must take and pass a breath test before the vehicle can be started or driven.

Retests are also required at random times as long as the engine is running. In other words, if drivers have this device installed in the vehicle, not only do they have to blow into the breathing apparatus in order to get the vehicle started but also at random times during the operation of the vehicle, especially if it is a prolonged trip. There would be a warning light or horn sound and at that time drivers would have to blow into the device again to check that they had not been drinking and driving.

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12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Who gets the devices?

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12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

The hon. member asks who gets the devices? Obviously people who have been caught drinking and driving. This legislation would deal with repeat offenders because unfortunately all too often the biggest amount of damage done to innocent people in society is by repeat offenders.

Bill C-46 would allow provinces that have this legislation in place to apply it for repeat offenders. This was not the case prior to the introduction of Bill C-46. We have an amendment to the criminal code that would allow that to happen. We hope to see a decline in drunk driving once this becomes widespread.

The legislation would put the stamp of approval by amending the criminal code on these programs at the federal level. It is the hope of people such as myself and organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, that we would see similar programs in place in all provinces so that we would see rates for drunk driving decline. If habitual drunk drivers were unable to start and operate their vehicles then hopefully this would keep them off the road.

There are a number of other areas that one would hope the government would act upon. I mentioned the MADD organization. It should be given credit for the bill today. It was through its lobbying efforts and those of other organizations and individuals across the nation that the government was made more aware of the importance and urgency in bringing forward legislation like Bill C-46.

There are other suggestions that MADD is making which warrant debate and hopefully legislation. The MADD suggestions and policies include important federal-provincial legislative changes to streamline laws, enhance police authority and increase the effectiveness of enforcement for drunk driving. We need vigilant enforcement of laws and increased support for the police and judiciary. We need greater consistency in enforcing the laws and sentencing offenders.

There is one suggestion which I have discussed many times in my riding of Prince George--Peace River. Other MPs have also discussed it with law enforcement agencies and police officers in their ridings, whether urban or rural. It is the problem police officers experience when they stop someone who is obviously impaired and charge them.

There are problems in making the charge stick in court, getting people off the road, ensuring that they pay the penalty in court and prohibiting them from driving for a period of time. It is hoped that this interlock device would ensure that persons drinking in the future would be prevented from driving vehicles.

Other programs and policies include effectively educating the social drinker and providing treatment and just punishment for hard core drinkers and repeat offenders. If provinces do not have interlock programs in place they could pick up on this issue and have them in all provinces and territories across the nation. It would make quite a difference in keeping repeat offenders off our roads.

Another suggestion is to increase education and public awareness of the seriousness of impaired driving. I speak from experience in my home province of British Columbia where both the provincial and federal governments have been doing a reasonable job. I commend them for the job they have been doing in educating the public on the dangers of drinking and driving.

Operation Counter Attack in British Columbia has been making great strides in keeping drinking and driving to a minimum. Unfortunately the reality is that on average four and a half deaths a day per year are attributed to drinking and driving. People lose their lives to drinking and driving at twice the rate of those who are murdered. That is a horrifying statistic. It points to the importance of what we must do.

I was encouraged by the brief statement made by the justice minister in bringing the bill forward today. She said she did not view the legislation as a magic bullet against drunk driving. I agree with her.

I hope that comment was a signal to all parliamentarians, organizations like MADD and Canadians in the real world outside the Ottawa bubble. The minister intends to bring forward additional legislation in the near future to deal with drinking and driving. Perhaps that legislation would include some of the suggestions I made today in my remarks on Bill C-46.

I conclude by imploring Canadians as we enter the holiday season to travel safely. At this time of year our roads can be dangerous even when the driver is cold sober. With our unpredictable weather conditions we often get freezing rain, especially in the northern areas of the country, and fight snow drifts and blizzard conditions. Roads are dangerous.

On behalf of all parliamentarians I say to people who drink alcoholic beverages over the holidays, as so many of us like to imbibe from time to time, that they should not drive. I ask them to stay off the roads not only to protect themselves and their loved ones travelling with them but to provide an element of safety for all other Canadians who are also using our highways and roads during the holiday season.

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12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, this is one occasion I rise in the House when I am particularly disqualified from speaking. On the other hand I think I have a great qualification. I made a personal pledge when I was a youngster never to drink alcoholic beverages. I have kept the pledge to this day.

I have made a couple of other interesting pledges. One was that I would go through life without ever getting a ticket while driving. That means speeding, stop signs, stop lights and things like that. I am humbly proud to announce to the House that at this stage in my life I have never yet had a ticket. I am some 62 years old and have been driving almost 50 years. It is incredible.

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12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

I have a few he could have.

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12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

My colleague is willing to give me some of his.It was a matter of principle. As I said, I did the same thing with alcoholic beverages. I said I would not drink them.

This came about in a strange way. When I was a youngster we were quite poor. Members who have heard my speeches in the House have heard some of these stories. I made my spending money by picking up beer bottles other people had spread in the ditches, bottles which would not have been there had people not been drinking while driving. Not only did they drink before they were driving. They were drinking while they were driving and tossing the bottles out. It gave me a meagre income. I remember it distinctly. We got 18 cents a dozen, one and a half cents a bottle. I picked them up and used them for spending money.

One time my father provided for me to make restitution for a loss I had been part of. That story has also been told in the House. It took over a year of picking up beer bottles to raise enough money to pay for some broken windows, but that is another story.

During the time I was picking up beer bottles I learned to strongly dislike the smell of beer. It was only many years later that a friend of mine told me there was a substantial difference between a nice cold beer out of the fridge and one that has been laying in the hot sun for two or three weeks. I had a bit of an advantage in the sense of being turned off from that deal.

I am disqualified in the sense that I do not drink. I will never be involved with drunken driving as long as I keep the pledge. I am eminently qualified because I believe very strongly that people must make decisions and follow through on matters of principle.

One matter of principle I strongly believe must be that we do not drink and drive. It impairs one's ability to manage a vehicle, which is a lethal weapon when it gets up to speed on a highway or city street. If there is a lack of ability to control the vehicle for whatever reason the person should be severely restrained by law.

The same principle applies that I have spoken about frequently in the House. It is impossible to pass a law to make people good. The purpose of the law is to restrain those who would do evil. It is evil to drive under the influence of alcohol or anything else that inhibits one's ability to manage a vehicle.

I happen to live out in the country. My riding is mostly rural. We have lots of intersections where there is a stop sign in one direction and free flow in the other. A number of my friends have been severely injured and one was killed because people coasted through stop signs. Whether they were sober or inebriated they went through the stop sign and caused a collision.

There was a young man a couple of miles from our house who was travelling home having visited some family. He and two of his children were instantly killed when someone went through a stop sign. To me that is unconscionable. My wife and I have had several occasions where we had to screech the brakes to come to a stop because someone violated that rule.

When we accept the privileges of which we have so many in our country, many of them have an attached responsibility. That responsibility should be kept and delivered on as a service and as a result of our concern for fellow citizens.

Most people have been speaking in favour of Bill C-46 today. I have severe questions about it. As people who have been watching know, the bill is, among other things, an authorization to use an interlock connect with the ignition so a vehicle will not run unless the person operating it and blowing into the tube is free of alcoholic content in his or her breath.

I am concerned about the authorization. The bill states that it:

--has no effect until the expiry of a period fixed by the court

(a) of at least three months, for a first offence;

(b) of at least 6 months, for a second offence; and

(c) of at least 12 months, for each subsequent offence.

When will we put an end to this? When will we say to people who get picked up driving while under the influence of alcohol that they cannot do that? We can catch them once, twice or three times and the bill simply says “for each subsequent offence”.

I read in the paper not long ago that someone was arrested for drunken driving and it was his 14th offence. There comes a time when we must say to these people that since they have shown a complete lack of responsibility we will remove their driving privileges because they are a danger to everyone else on the road.

I would like to see the offences strengthened. The bill would disable a vehicle from running if the person driving it was not sober. This might prevent someone from driving a vehicle when he or she is not capable of making that judgment. However we need to be careful not to give too much credit to the action we are taking here today.

How about a person who is irresponsible and willing to drive when inebriated? Will that person avoid taking a vehicle that has such a device? I am sure we will have penalties for driving a vehicle that does not have the device if the person has entered into the agreement. On the other hand there are people who drive regularly although they have been disbarred from driving. They do not take responsibility. How about people who might have a friend blow into the device for them?

Those are just some of the ways of circumventing the device. Can we trust these people? They have proven, by the fact that they have driven even once on the road while inebriated, that they are not willing to take responsibility.

This is a crazy story and one I probably should not tell because if the guy who is the object of it hears it I may get into trouble. I was driving in one of my little towns which had a two lane road in each direction divided by a median. As I approached an intersection the road turned from two lanes into four with the addition of right and left hand turning lanes.

I was following a half ton truck on the two lane portion of the road and the driver was literally bouncing off both curbs. He would hit the right curb and then drift over across two lanes and hit the left curb. I realized we were heading out into the country and there would be no other way of stopping him if we did not get a red light at the intersection. Fortunately we did.

I stopped behind him, threw on my four way flashers, jumped out of my car and did something rather bizarre. I ran up to him, opened his door, put my rather substantial body in front of his, reached over and took the key out of the ignition. I know he could have assaulted me but at that stage I was ready to take the risk because we were going out onto a country road with two lanes, one in each direction. The way he was driving I was quite convinced it would result in an accident and possibly even severe injury or death because we were getting into highway speeds. I did it because it was my civic duty.

Hon. members would not believe what the guy said to me. Hansard would not be able to print the words, but I will say that he spoke with slurred speech when asked me what I was doing. I told him that he was going nowhere because he obviously could not drive. He said that he was okay but I told him that he was not and I took away his key. He was so stunned he could not raise any objection.

To shorten the story, in due time the RCMP arrived. When the RCMP officer asked the guy to get up and stand on one foot he could not. As a matter of fact, he could not stand without holding on to his half ton truck. He had to be led by the arm into the police officer's vehicle.

I like to think I saved a life that day. I took a risk but I saved a life. That individual did not take responsibility. We should do everything possible to take people like that off the roads.

I rather doubt anyone in the House or in the country does not have a relative or at least a close friend or acquaintance who has not been affected by drunk driving. I have several. One of my colleagues at NAIT where I taught for many years had the grief of having his young sister killed by a drunk driver. She had just started university. She died as a result of drunk driving. People do not recognize how important it is to stop drunk driving because they do not think it impacts on lives or takes lives.

Another couple I know well was struck on the highway by a vehicle driven by a drunk driver. Their young son who was about 10 years old, a beautiful, brilliant young guy who did well in school, was reduced essentially to being a dependant all his life. He is now in his early twenties and he is still not able to function as an adult. That was taken from him by a drunk driver.

We hear of drunk drivers taking lives, particularly of high school students at graduations and other parties. Thinking of young people, I was given a poignant poem which I will read as part of my speech. It underlines how damaging the activity of drunk drivers can be. I ask members to listen to the poem:

Close to the door he paused to stand as he took his class ring off her hand all who were watching did not speak as a silent tear ran down his cheek and through his mind the memories ran of the moments they walked and laughed in the sand but now her eyes were so terrible cold for he would never again have her to hold they watched in silence as he bent near and whispered the words... “I LOVE YOU dear” he touched her face and started to cry as he put on his ring and wanted to die and just then the wind began to blow as they lowered her casket into the snow... this is what happens to man alive... ...when friends let friends... drink and drive.

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12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-46 because it is a completion of a number of steps that have been taken. There are more steps, but in the fight against impaired driving, every time we take a positive action in the House it is another step that will go a long way to saving lives and injuries as a result of impaired driving.

Back in the 36th session of parliament, I introduced a private member's motion recommending that the government have a complete review of the criminal code and how it affected impaired driving. We sat on the committee as it was being discussed and had some interesting debate.

That private member's motion then became a votable opposition supply day. For the first time in 13 years in the House of Commons, the federal government, took some very good leadership in allowing the motion eventually to become a reality. A review was made of the criminal code with respect to impaired driving and changes were made. I congratulate the government on that initiative.

At the same time, I have to point out that 13 years was a long time to drag our feet toward dealing with something as important as this, particularly when organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving had been petitioning members of parliament on a regular basis pointing out the need for the overview.

A profound change in thinking took place as a result of that exercise in dealing with the impaired driving issue. I congratulate all members of parliament for this change of attitude toward drunk driving. I believe that, until we got into looking at it in the House and in committee, there was a wide ranging attitude among many people, including parliamentarians, for whom perhaps impaired driving was described as a social ill. I do not fault them for that. I think it is more a lack of education than anything else. By the time we were through the exercise of dealing with impaired driving in the criminal code, I think it became clearly evident to every member of parliament, and indeed a whole lot of Canadians, that impaired driving was a serious crime.

If we have accomplished something in going from one broadly endorsed attitude to another, that is a very positive step. Again, I want to congratulate and commend organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the people who support that organization. I and a number of parliamentarians support it both financially and in spirit.

In the two previous bills we took some great leaps ahead in the fight against impaired driving. Keep in mind that impaired driving kills well over 1,000 people every year and injures in excess of 50,000 every year, just because someone gets behind the wheel when impaired and drives. I heard it incredulously called a mistake in the House a little earlier by a former colleague of mine. Driving while impaired is not a mistake. It is a crime.

The culpability or responsibility for getting behind the wheel begins the moment someone makes a decision to have a drink of alcohol. I do not accept the excuse, and I know the Ministry of Industry does not accept the excuse “I just wasn't thinking”. There is a time to think and that is before we take that first drink. The idea that it was an absence of thought, or a mistake or something just does not fly. It is a crime and if we commit that crime, there are consequences to it.

This bill will remind people of their culpability because they will know that if they get into their vehicle after drinking, they will to have to blow into this device. In fact, there would be a mapping device which would prevent someone else from blowing into it. My colleague from Elk Island had some concerns about that. However the first time people blow into the device they set the standard. It is like an eye scan or a fingerprint. No one else can blow into that device and try to trick it.

Of course we will support this bill. It is a good bill. It is another step in the fight against impaired driving. As parliamentarians know, this is very high on the wish list of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has presented mountains of evidence as to why this device will do the job. I personally, as well as many parliamentarians, have seen the effectiveness of this. We know it is about as foolproof as we can possibly get. The records are there to show how it will stop impaired people from driving.

We will support the bill, as we supported Bill C-18 and Bill C-82.

Just before I close, there is another issue that is very high on the wish list of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. That is the lowering of the BAC, the blood alcohol content, which determines whether a person is impaired or not. MADD has a very good case.

The problem we have is the BAC is at .08 right now. Every study in the world declares that at .08 we are impaired and should not be driving a car. Unfortunately, the courts and the legal system have allowed a margin of error of .02 or .03. Even though there exists no margin of error in the devices which record the blood alcohol content, through courtroom tactics defence lawyers have been able to build in this margin of error which means people cannot get a conviction on impaired driving unless the readout is at least .01.

Therefore, we maintain that if the legally impaired level is .08, let us take into consideration that .03 margin of error, lower the BAC to .05, let them have their .03 and we can start convicting at .08, where we should be, because these people are legally impaired and should not be driving.

I want to congratulate the government for introducing Bill C-46. I hope that it is passed speedily through the House and given speedy royal assent in the Senate. I encourage the government to follow this with another bill calling for the reduction of the BAC to .05. Let us get it to committee, get the experts and let us prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the BAC level should be lowered to .05.

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12:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member's comments with interest and I am glad to hear that the Canadian Alliance is also supporting this legislation.

One thing that concerns me about this is it has taken so long to come forward. It is a very innovative, technological device that will save lives. The earlier this initiative can be brought in, the better. The hon. member talked about other things that need to be done as well.

At the general council meeting of the Canadian Medical Association a resolution was adopted that urged the federal government to work with provincial and territorial governments to develop pilot projects for the use of breathalyzer ignition interlock devices so this approach would be available as a conditional sentencing option in the courts of Canada.

Is the hon. member aware of other organizations that have supported this initiative? CMA support of this legislation is a very important demonstration of the broad support in the community for this kind of device and that it needs to be brought in quickly. Perhaps we are beyond the point of doing pilot projects and this should be undertaken on a national basis as quickly as possible. Could the member to comment on that?

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12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, it was indeed quite a while before this legislation came before us. The issue of the interlock device was part of the original supply day motion discussion which became a government bill. We talked about this in committee. For whatever reasons, arguments developed in committee between some legal minds, and as everyone knows that whenever lawyers debate with each other things can be held up forever. This bill slipped through the cracks in the discussion of Bill C-82.

As far as support is concerned, I am sure we would not find a parliamentarian in this place who would not supportive of this bill. I know Bloc members have had some concerns about it, but at the end of the day they will be fully supportive of it because it is a good bill.

I will mention again without hesitation Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This is one of the most dedicated and hard-working organizations in the fight against impaired driving. However, there are a lot of other organizations with the similar vision of eradicating our highways of impaired drivers.

The more we can do on this issue, the better we will feel about the safety of our streets and communities. We will all sleep soundly and be proud that we contributed in the fight against drinking and driving.

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12:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, I listened very closely to what my hon. colleague from the Canadian Alliance had to say. Quick passage of this legislation is essential because we are at the time of year when drinking and driving, unfortunately, is a very serious factor of everyday life. If I had it my way, it would not be .05% either. It would be if people drink, they do not drive. I have seen too many people injured or killed because of drunk drivers behind the wheel. However drinking and drinking, specifically, is a great social cost to our country.

To educate our people as to the seriousness of this issue, we should be doing more at the school level. Unfortunately, more and more young people are drinking before they are legally allowed to and many of them end up behind the wheel.

First, would the member agree that this legislation should be passed quickly and hopefully implemented for this coming holiday season? Second, does he think we should educate our young as to the dangers of drinking and driving?