Debates of May 3rd, 2004
House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was national.
- Constitution Act
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- Questions on the Order Paper
- Criminal Code
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- Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Questions on the Order Paper
Some hon. members
The House resumed consideration of the motion.
May 3rd, 2004 / 3:05 p.m.
Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will only take a few minutes to conclude the debate on the bill which was before the House prior to oral question period. I simply want to say that I support the government bill we are debating today, namely Bill C-29.
This morning, on several occasions, our colleagues asked us to support the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code. Just before oral question period, one of our colleagues concluded his remarks on the bill regarding mental disorder. Later today, we will have the opportunity, I guess, to pass the bill either unanimously or through a recorded division.
The bill is entitled an act to amend the Criminal code (mental disorder) and to make consequential amendments to other acts. Some of the amendments were necessary, as you know, because certain acts that have been in force for a number of years have become obsolete or have never been used. And some were never promulgated even though they received the royal assent.
The department saw fit to take these housekeeping measures last spring. I was the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons when I first became aware of the bill. Unfortunately, its formal introduction in the House of Commons was delayed.
At that time, there were several justice bills before the House, which limited the amount of time we had to review it. Fortunately we now have a bit more time, so that members in the House can review it today.
I join all those, on this side of the House at least, who have indicated their support for Bill C-29 earlier today. I know that we will vote on it later today. Thus, since I will probably be the last one to speak on the bill, it will be put to a vote so that it can be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Finally, I hope that the parliamentary committee will have the time, despite its very busy schedule, to study it very soon and to send it back to the House, so that we can proceed to its final adoption soon and refer it to the other house.
I conclude my comments by adding that I still support the bill.
Is the House ready for the question?
Some hon. members
The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members
I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
(Motion agreed to and bill referred to a committee)
Bill C-32. On the Order: Government Orders
May 3, 2004--the Minister of Justice--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of Bill C-32, and act to amend the Criminal Code (drugs and impaired driving) and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.
Lucienne Robillard for the Minister of Justice
That Bill C-32, and act to amend the Criminal Code (drugs and impaired driving) and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Paul MacKlin Northumberland, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support the motion to send Bill C-32 to the committee for review.
Bill C-32 fully responds to various parliamentary committees that have urged consideration of ways to improve legislation for the investigation of drug impaired driving.
In 2003 the special committee of the House that examined Bill C-38, that is cannabis reforms, now Bill C-10, recommended that the government consider amendments relating to drug recognition evaluation in order to aid in drug impaired driving investigations.
Earlier in the fall of 2003, the government had released a consultation paper on drug impaired driving to stakeholders and provinces that reflected discussions among federal and provincial officials. Those discussions had been recommended by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights following its 1999 review of the impaired driving provisions in the Criminal Code.
Also in 2002, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs had recommended that consideration be given to amendments for drug recognition expert legislation.
Currently section 253(a) of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to drive while one's ability to operate is impaired by alcohol or a drug. This includes driving while impaired by a combination of alcohol and a drug. For alcohol there is a separate offence in section 253(b) for driving while over the legal limit, but there are no similar drug legal limits.
The drugs and driving committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science has indicated that for the vast majority of drugs there is no scientific agreement on the concentration threshold at which there is impairment that significantly increases collision risk.
The Criminal Code currently authorizes the police to make demands for alcohol breath tests. These readings are necessary to prove the alcohol legal limit offence in section 253(b) and refusal of the alcohol breath tests is an offence.
These provisions are very helpful in the investigation process that leads to dealing with the alcohol legal limit offence. For section 253(a), drug impaired driving investigations, the police and the public are often less familiar with the physiological effects of drugs than those associated with alcohol. Bill C-32 would give the police the tools to better investigate section 253(a), drug impaired driving incidents.
Bill C-32 would authorize a peace officer, who reasonably suspects that a person has alcohol or a drug in the body, to demand that the person perform physical sobriety tests at the roadside. These involve a heel to toe walk and turn, following with the eyes the officer's hand movement, and standing on one leg. If the tests give the officer reasonable grounds to believe that the person has committed an alcohol involved driving offence, the officer can demand that the person provide a breath sample on the approved instrument. Typically an officer who has taken the necessary training does this testing at the police station.
If, after the roadside physical sobriety tests, the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a drug impaired driving offence has occurred, the officer may demand that the person perform tests in a drug recognition expert evaluation back at the police station. The trained officer who conducts the evaluation will conduct the steps in the evaluation and classify the family of drugs, if any, that is causing impairment.
If no test has been done at the roadside for alcohol and no test was done at the police station for alcohol and the officer conducting the evaluation has reasonable suspicion of alcohol in the body, the officer may demand a sample of breath on an approved screening device in order to confirm whether alcohol is present. If the officer conducting the evaluation forms the opinion that a drug is causing impairment, the officer can then demand a sample of urine, saliva or blood. The sample will be tested. Where the result shows that the drug which the officer identified as causing impairment is present, a charge would proceed.
Once again, as with alcohol, refusal of any of the demands without reasonable excuse would be a Criminal Code offence carrying the same penalties that now exist for driving while impaired, driving while over the alcohol legal limit or refusing to provide a breath sample.
If the prosecution proceeds by summary conviction, which is of course the less serious type of charge that can be laid, the existing maximum is six months imprisonment. If the prosecution proceeds by indictment, the maximum is five years imprisonment. Where there is impaired driving that causes death, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. Where there is impaired driving that causes bodily harm, the maximum penalty is 10 years of imprisonment.
On the first offence, the minimum penalty is a fine of $600. On a second offence, the minimum is 14 days of imprisonment. On a subsequent offence, the minimum penalty is 90 days of imprisonment. In addition, upon a conviction, the court must also impose a period of prohibition from driving anywhere in Canada. The minimum driving prohibition increases with repeat offences.
The courts have already found that under section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms the short detention at roadside for a breath test on an approved screening device, without the right to legal counsel is justifiable. Bill C-32 in its demand for physical sobriety tests at the roadside provides the police with a similar tool that, in my view, is equally justifiable.
Police currently give the right to counsel at the police station before the suspect performs an alcohol breath test on an approved instrument. It is anticipated that police would follow the same practice prior to a drug recognition expert evaluation.
In addition to the drug impaired driving elements of Bill C-32, the bill contains provisions that would correct some section numbering of Bill C-10, that is cannabis reforms. Bill C-32 also contains consequential amendments and coming into force provisions.
Currently, there are several provinces with police officers that have sobriety test and DRE training. However, these officers have no authority to make a demand for testing and can only conduct tests if a suspect voluntarily participates. Bill C-32 will, in that regard, be a giant step forward for police who investigate drug impaired driving incidents.
Clearly, the time has come for this type of legislation to be put in place. I urge all members to send the bill to committee for review. There we will be able to have all the stakeholders and the witnesses can come forward and make their perspectives known. Clearly, this area is an area that does present some difficulties. However, I believe this bill goes a long way toward bringing us to a point where drug impaired driving will bring the penalties to it that it deserves and will help in removing them from our roadways.
I encourage all members to support this going forward to committee for further review.
Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the motion to send the bill to committee for further review and study.
Bill C-32, which is an act to amend the Criminal Code with regard to drugs and impaired driving, seeks to extend the testing provisions that currently exist for alcohol to also be used for other drugs. Alcohol testing can be done by police officers when an individual is pulled over to the side of the road with ease because of the fact that alcohol can be traced through breath and therefore a very non-intrusive breathalyzer test is possible.
This is not possible for other substances. Really law enforcement authorities frankly in Canada and elsewhere have been very lucky that alcohol is so easily tested through a breathalyzer device.
Therefore, what the proposed law does is allow police officers to require an individual to submit to a blood test and impose penalties for refusing to take that blood test to establish whether or not some degree of substance has been ingested that causes the individual to act in an impaired manner.
Significantly, this has nothing to do with whether is it an illegal substance. It has to do with whether the amount in the person's blood stream is sufficient to cause the person to act in a manner that essentially is negligent and endangers the general public through driving. On the whole that is a very good thing.
Right now the situation is there is no method legally available to police officers to allow them to require an individual to provide a blood sample in order for that sample to be tested to confirm whether the individual's driving is impaired.
The drug recognition expert test, to which my hon. colleague referred, is available and used in three provinces currently: Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba. However, it is only where the driver voluntarily participates. As we can anticipate, those who themselves feel that they might be in violation of the impaired driving laws are the most likely to refuse compliance with the request of an officer. Therefore, in practice, we can prosecute for the use of a legal drug, alcohol, but not for the use of illegal drugs in a way that causes the individual to be impaired.
Police officers are typically put in a position where it is necessary for them to rely on external evidence; that is behaviour of the individual with erratic driving patterns prior to the automobile being pulled over or by witness testimony, if they can find where the individual came from and are able to have someone report that the individual was using some form of substance in a substantial enough quantity that an individual's driving behaviour was likely to be impaired. In other words, it makes it very difficult to actually carry out prosecutions of those who endanger the public.
This is significant. All of this is taking place to some degree in the context of a debate over another bill, Bill C-10, which would decriminalize the possession and therefore in practice the use of at least limited quantities marijuana. Therefore, as this discussion goes on, we are also talking about a semi-legal drug, its status and how we respond to that.
Sometimes there are individuals, myself included, who refer to the consumption and use of marijuana as a victimless crime; that is, someone uses marijuana but they do not create a victim out there. However, that stops when individuals use marijuana or some other substance, including a prescription drug, and proceed to put themselves essentially at the control of a large and dangerous machine and take actions which could endanger the safety of others. At that point, the public interest becomes involved and potentially there are victims of what essentially boils down to being at the very least a kind of gross negligence. In some cases we see impaired drivers going out when there is almost a certainty they will wind up having an accident. We can argue that when someone is harmed, it is a form of manslaughter.
When I have written on the subject of decriminalization of drugs in the past, I always have stressed the importance of ensuring that we have laws in place that guarantee that negative externalities, the imposition of pain or suffering upon others, are carefully prevented and any form of reduction in the penalties for the use of any mood or mind-altering substance ought to be accompanied by protections for the public.
In October 2001 I wrote an article on the subject of marijuana decriminalization and drugs in general. I wrote the following with reference to the public good and public interest. I said:
--most of us would recognize the need for sanctions against violent behaviour and against the grossest forms of negligence towards others, and it is perfectly reasonable to expect some form of legislated limitation on what economists would describe as the “negative externalities” (harmful or annoying side effects to others) of all personal behaviours, including drug use. Which is, of course, precisely what the state does in the case of legal recreational drugs. Driving or boating while under the influence of alcohol is a criminal offence, as it ought to be.
The same would be true for driving or boating while under the influence of marijuana, a prescription drug, an illegal drug or some mix of those substances. The bill as it stands now would allow for this kind of rule to be enforced in a meaningful way, and that is a positive step.
There are some things, however, that deserve to be mentioned as caveats. One is the fact that it is not as easy to find a consensus on what represents a dangerous level of other substances in the bloodstream. Whereas we have a pretty clear consensus on what represents a dangerous level of alcohol in the bloodstream. That is work that I think we can achieve.
I have great hope that in committee hearings we will hear witnesses who can draw our attention to some of the science on this so we may begin to develop the necessary knowledge to allow ourselves to carry out this kind of law effectively and ensure that those who are not impaired are not facing prosecution and those who are genuinely impaired do not get away from facing prosecution. That is a balancing act and I have hope that we will be successful in finding the solution through this.
I also want to mention that we should not regard this law as being a panacea with regard to the problems raised by Bill C-10, the marijuana decriminalization law.
Bill C-10 has problems that are not addressed by this legislation. Most notable, it seems to me, Bill C-10 simultaneously reduces the penalties for the consumption of marijuana. That means inevitably the consumer demand would increase while at the same time it would increase the penalties for the possession of marijuana for production purposes as measured, for example, by the number of plants one has in one's possession. This could have the consequence of causing simultaneously demand to rise while the penalties also rise and the temptations of risking those penalties also rise, which may result in more prosecutions and more people being tempted into a position where they can be prosecuted than would otherwise be the case. I do not think that is a positive thing and it remains a real concern with Bill C-10. There are other concerns, as well.
However, this proposed and the measures it recommends are very positive. I would encourage members to send the bill forward to the committee.
Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC
The House will remember that several witnesses who appeared before the committee pointed out the problem of driving while impaired by drugs. They raised this point to encourage us to oppose Bill C-10.
Following these presentations, I moved in committee an amendment aimed at doing almost what Bill C-32 does now. At the time, the committee chair rejected my amendment, because it was irrelevant to Bill C-10.
However, and I succeeded in getting the unanimous support of the committee on this, we tabled two reports on Bill C-10 in the House. The first report suggested some amendments to Bill C-10 and the other called on the government to move quickly to pass legislation to resolve the problem of driving while impaired by drugs.
So, Bill C-32, which is now before us, is in response to a request by the committee that reviewed Bill C-10.
As regards the bill per se, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that we support Bill C-32 at this stage and believe that it should be reviewed in committee as quickly as possible.
Now, let us turn to the bad news. The introduction of the bill at this stage of our proceedings, with an election campaign looming on the horizon, is a cheap election ploy on the part of the Liberals. They are trying to counter the attacks that they are anticipating from the Conservative Party of Canada and its right wing forces, which want a return to a more prohibitionist approach regarding the possession of marijuana.
When a measure as important as Bill C-32 is introduced in the House, an announcement is usually made regarding moneys that will be made available to implement the legislation. In this case, no money was earmarked, announced or set aside to implement Bill C-32. What is the point of tabling, and even voting on a measure such as Bill C-32 if the means to implement it are not there?
As we know, there are some 52,000 police officers in Canada. If my memory serves me correctly, we need to train about 40% of them so that they can conduct the standardized breath test announced in Bill C-32.
How does the government expect to train these 20,000 to 25,000 police officers if it does have the means to do so? How will these men and women, these police officers, be able to conduct standardized sobriety tests on people who are inebriated or under the influence of drugs, if they are not trained to do so?
I will conclude by saying that although we support Bill C-32, I think this is a cheap election ploy. I think the government is not sincere in its commitment to passing Bill C-32. If it were, it would have provided the means to implement it.
Unfortunately, nothing surprises me anymore with this government. I am beyond cynical about it. This government has no direction and does not know what it wants except to be re-elected. It thinks that by tabling Bill C-32 on the eve of an election, it is arming itself against possible attacks that might occur during an election campaign. For the public, it is very disappointing to see the government treat such an important issue this way.
I repeat, and I will conclude on this, I demand that the government table a concrete plan in the few days remaining before the federal election is called. The government has to tell us exactly how much money it will provide and put aside in order to train police officers to conduct standardized sobriety tests; otherwise this is all a sham.
Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON
Mr. Speaker, the NDP is pleased to indicate to the House that we, like the other parties, are quite interested in having this bill referred to committee. We recognize that it has a significant role to play in dealing with drivers and conductors of other vehicles who are in an impaired condition, both in terms of identifying them and dealing with the results of them breaching the law.
There are clearly some positives in this bill, but there also are some negatives. This bill has become a pressing issue in the form of its necessity because of all the debate that we have had around Bill C-10, which would have the effect of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
I must say that from my period of time when I was practising criminal law, I am not sure we are going to see any increase in the number of people driving while impaired due to the consumption of marijuana. That conduct is going on now. In many respects, because it is completely illegal now, I would suggest it is worse than it will be once it is legalized and have the result at that point of people knowing when and how much they can consume, and generate more appropriate conduct in terms of the safety of the general public.
I think because the maximum consumption allowed, in terms of possession, is 15 grams, people will know that is the limit. They will also know that because they are limiting themselves in that regard, they have to limit the consumption in terms of its impact if they are driving or, what would be obviously preferable, that they do not drive at all, or conduct any other types of mechanical devices on public roadways, waterways, or airways, if they have consumed any marijuana whatsoever.
I am actually looking for an improvement in the number of people who would be conducting themselves in more appropriate and safety conscious fashion.
The other point that I would like to make with regard to the legislation itself--and it is one concern that we have and I am not sure we are going to be able to overcome this as we go through the legislative process, it is one that will have to be overcome by changes in practice of law enforcement--is the fear we have that this type of legislation could in fact be used in a discriminating fashion against visible minorities, against the aboriginal Métis population, much as we are seeing some of that occurring now in other areas of law enforcement.
This one is much more open to that type of abuse because it would allow a police officer unreasonable grounds to stop someone, conduct the investigation, and then carry on to insist that they provide urine or blood samples, saliva samples, et cetera. So it is more open to abuse.
The use of the breathalyzer and the use of the assessment whether somebody is impaired due to alcohol is more clear-cut. The evidence that was heard at both Bill C-10 and other investigations into the legalization of marijuana made that quite clear. It is easier for a police officer to identify people who are under the influence of alcohol than if they are under the influence of marijuana or some other drug. However, because of that difficulty, it is then easier for police officers who are being abusive of their authority to camouflage the fact that they are in some way or another discriminating.
I do not want to suggest in any way that this is rampant in our society and certainly within our police forces, but we do have exceptions and we have seen that across the country, in a number of ways, over the last good number of years as we have followed those types of abuses. This legislation, therefore, will have to be closely analyzed to see if there are any ways that we can reduce that type of abuse flowing out of these amendments.
The other point I would like to make is with regard to how some of the tests actually would be conducted. This is one of our concerns with the legislation. The legislation as drafted provides that a blood sample would have to be taken by a qualified medical practitioner. Obviously of concern are the rules we are going to have to put in place under this legislation to guide how that blood sample is taken. They must be very clear cut and very directive and, as much as possible, limiting in terms of invasion of privacy and invasion of the body's well-being.
That wording is in the legislation. I applaud that. It specifically says that the medical practitioner has to do an analysis as to whether the sample taking will in any way cause further injury to the individual. That is important, but I think we have to go even further.
With regard to the taking of other samples, we run into all sorts of practical problems. The committee reviewing this will have to look at some of these issues. For instance, in taking urine samples, there is the whole issue of how one monitors the person. There is the whole issue of the invasion of privacy. Is there a full search of the individual, including body cavities, in case the person is carrying around a urine sample? These are all issues we have had to deal with in enforcement of drug laws in other areas and we are going to be confronting them again under this legislation.
We as parliamentarians will need to be conscious of those problems when drafting the legislation. As much as possible, we will need to be prepared to provide direction to the enforcing officers so that abuse does not occur but samples can still be obtained in a fair and just way.
The additional point I would like to raise, which is one that we heard earlier from the member from the Bloc Québécois, is the issue of funding. There is no provision in the legislation for cost sharing on the expenses that are inevitably going to come out of this, first with regard to training our police officers right across the country on what they are required to do and what they are entitled to do and in effect teaching them how to do it.
Based on my own experience when I was practising law, at the time when the breathalyzer was coming into effect we had a lot of difficulties with it, including a lot of litigation as to what was required for the person to be properly trained and for the equipment to be properly used.
It is an expensive process to prepare our police forces right across the country for what is being proposed under this legislation. It is being mandated by the federal government. While we might pass these amendments to the code, while doing that we are not providing any financial resources. That burden, then, as so often has happened with this government, is going to fall onto provincial and municipal governments. Neither one of those levels of government, with the exception of one or two of the provinces, is in any kind of shape to take on additional costs for their policing.
One of the results may very well be that municipal police forces simply may not even attempt to use the bill because they cannot afford to train their officers and may not be able to afford some of the necessary equipment. For example, there will be a need for specific storage facilities for keeping both blood and urine samples and that is going to be expensive. Other types of equipment may very well be necessary on site in the police stations across the country. If that is not provided for by at least some significant amount of funding from the federal government, we may see police forces across the country simply refusing to use this legislation because they cannot afford to.
We have these concerns. However, because of what we are doing with Bill C-10 and the need generally to bring under control the consumption of drugs of various sources and the conducting of vehicles, it is very important to proceed with this legislation.
Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to sending Bill C-32 to committee. I am delighted to hear all the other parties supporting it although I was a bit astounded by the Bloc's suggestion about rudderlessness. As we know, the government has a lot of bills on the list today. We are going to a fisheries bill next. We have had many bills related to self-government and first nations financial institutions and a huge agenda in the budget and the throne speech.
When reporters review question period since Christmas, they will find out that it is the Bloc members that are rudderless. What proposals have they provided to us for the betterment of Canada, for the betterment of and better programs for Canadians? If we were to look through the Bloc's questions in question period, we would see that there really are no proposals there. There are no questions on the very dramatic program we have in the throne speech and the budget for rebuilding the social foundations and reinvigorating Canada's educational system, to be prepared for the modern economy and to reinvigorate Canada's place in the world. There is nothing to that effect in the Bloc's agenda or the questions during question period. I do not think that Bloc members should suggest that others are rudderless.
Bill C-32, related to driving while impaired by alcohol or a drug, is a complex health, road safety and justice problem. Addressing it requires combined efforts of governments, police, schools, public and private organizations, families and individuals. Where legislation, whether provincial, territorial or federal, can contribute to fighting impaired driving, it should contribute.
Is there a gap in the impaired driving offences provided for in the Criminal Code? The answer is no. In fact, the Criminal Code has had an offence for driving under the effects of alcohol since 1921. The code also has an offence relating to drugs and driving since 1925. Driving while impaired by alcohol or a drug is already a serious Criminal Code offence with serious penalties, including a maximum of life imprisonment for impaired driving that causes death.
The offence of driving while impaired by alcohol or a drug includes driving while impaired by a combination of alcohol and drugs. The offence covers all kinds of drugs: illicit, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs. In order to prove the offence of driving while impaired by a drug, there is no requirement to show what the drug concentration level was while impaired by that drug. This is not as easy as it sounds, because it may be difficult for the untrained officer to recognize the physical effects of each drug found within the vast range of drugs other than alcohol.
Is there a difficulty in investigating drug-impaired driving incidents? The answer is clearly yes. Currently, where police officers do have training to administer roadside physical sobriety tests, or the more involved tests at the station, they can only seek the voluntary participation of a driver in these tests when conducting an investigation of a drug-impaired driving offence under the Criminal Code. If the driver refuses, there is no criminal law sanction.
Bill C-32 will give the police the authority they need to better investigate drug-impaired driving offences. It provides that a peace officer may demand physical sobriety tests at the roadside, more involved tests at the station, and a sample of urine, saliva or blood in order to test for the presence of drugs. Refusal of the demands would be a Criminal Code offence.
Since 1995, British Columbia has trained many police officers in standardized field sobriety tests that are used at the roadside and in drug recognition expert evaluations that are used at the police station. Several other provinces now have trained officers.
Some might ask what the federal government is doing. Some of the opposition members were asking questions about the money. Already to date, the government has committed more than $5 million toward drug recognition expert training. Training in standardized field sobriety tests and drug recognition expertise is already being rolled out nationally through a national coordinator who is an RCMP officer.
The national drug recognition expert coordinator works with instructors from the RCMP and provincial, regional and municipal forces in an approach that will “train the trainers” in order to build the capacity to develop standardized field sobriety tests and drug recognition expert officers across the country. A mid-term evaluation that incorporates a national needs assessment for training is to be undertaken in the 2005-06 fiscal year.
Scientists are much more familiar with the effects of alcohol on driving than they are in relation to other drugs. Similarly, researchers are more familiar with alcohol in relation to driver fatality data because they have been at it far longer and coroners have a higher rate for alcohol testing of fatally injured drivers. What is interesting is that even without complete testing of fatally injured drivers for drugs in all provinces and territories and even without vast numbers of studies on the effects of each of many drugs upon the skills used for driving, there is broad agreement that drug-impaired driving presents a serious problem and that drug-impaired driving is appropriately among offences within the Criminal Code.
Over the coming years, I am sure that we will see more research that will help us to broaden our understanding of the problem of drug-related impaired driving. That understanding could help to focus other parts of the prevention puzzle, such as education and public information, along with rehabilitative measures.
Over the past two decades there has been an increasing awareness of the dangers of driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs. There is far less tolerance today for such alcohol-impaired driving than there was in the past. Undoubtedly this progress also has an effect on the twin problems of drug-impaired driving and driving while impaired by a drug-alcohol cocktail. Canadians are not willing to put up with the dangers posed by drug-impaired driving.
I am aware some would argue that we should have legal limits for each of the many drugs, just as we have a legal limit in the Criminal Code for alcohol. Alcohol has a steady rate of absorption and elimination. Scientists are readily agreed that a significant increase of crash risk occurs above .08 for drivers, regardless of age. For the vast majority of other drugs, it is not so easy to find agreement on the threshold at which crash risk assessment is significantly increased. That is why the support from the drugs and driving committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science has come for drug recognition expert programs rather than for drug legal limits.
Bill C-32 has benefited from feedback provided on a public consultation paper on drug-impaired driving, released last fall. Several provinces have provided comments. Some individual Canadians have commented, as have many organizations, including the Canadian Bar Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Canada Safety Council, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, the Canadian Association of Police Boards, the Canadian Professional Police Association, and the Canadian Medical Association. Bill C-32 incorporates a number of their suggestions.
I am aware that the legislation may be tested in the courts. In several ways it parallels the breath-testing legislation, which has withstood scrutiny. For example, reasonable suspicion is required prior to demands for roadside sobriety tests just as it is prior to demanding breath tests on an approved screening device. Police must have reasonable grounds to believe an offence is being committed before demanding DRE tests at the police station, just as they must have reasonable grounds before demanding a breath test on an approved instrument. I am confident that the bill is solid and that the limits it imposes are justifiable.
Bill C-32 will aid police in the investigation of drug-impaired driving offences. By itself it is not a panacea for the problem of drug-impaired driving. It is, however, a very important piece in the solution. I am asking all members to support the motion to send Bill C-32 to committee for review.
Yolande Thibeault Saint-Lambert, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on this motion to refer to committee Bill C-32, an act to amend the Criminal Code (drugs and impaired driving) and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.
I am convinced that all members of this House want to pass the best possible legislation to fight the problem of drug-impaired driving. We know that the government's proposal is intended to amend the Criminal Code to give police the authority to demand that a person suspected of having drugs in his or her system submit to Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, or SFST.
If that person fails these tests, the police officer will have reason to believe that the person's faculties are impaired by drugs or by the combined effects of drugs and alcohol, and thus will be empowered to demand that the person accompany the officer to the police station, where the person will have to undergo other tests administered by a specially trained drug recognition expert, known as a DRE.
If the expert believes that the impairment is linked to a particular category of drugs, he or she will be authorized to require the person to furnish a sample of bodily fluids for analysis to confirm or refute the expert's opinion.
In one sense, this bill does not create a revolution. SFSTs and DREs are already being used in Canada. I understand that currently there are over 100 police officers trained as drug recognition experts. This phenomenon started in British Columbia in 1995 and now there are DREs in most provinces.
The RCMP is giving the training in conjunction with other police forces, and it is reasonable to expect that there will be DREs across the country within one or two years. Moreover, trial courts have accepted DREs' testimony in cases resulting in convictions.
Canada is not the only country to use DREs. As a matter of fact the first DREs were introduced in California in the early 1980s. Nowadays, they can be found in over 30 U.S. states as well as in Australia, New Zealand and several European countries. Training has been standardized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police over the past 10 years.
So if the program is already well in place in several Canadian provinces why do we need this bill? The answer is simple: We need it because currently a person suspected of drug-impaired driving is not obliged to take the tests.
In its report, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs devoted a chapter to driving under the influence of cannabis. The explanation given there applies to any police report of drug-impaired driving.
The Senate Committee summed up the situation as follows:
The typical scenario for driving under the influence of psychoactive substances other than alcohol is as follows: a vehicle attracts the attention of a police officer, who pulls the vehicle over and questions the driver; if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the driver is intoxicated, a breathalyzer test is administered; however, when the test yields a result below the legal limit, the police officer may still not be convinced that the driver is capable of driving, but how is this to be proven? Before, more often than not, the police officer had to release the driver.
When the Senate committee says that “before the police officer had to release the driver” it refers to the situation that prevailed in the United States and in other countries before the law was amended to oblige suspected drivers to take the test.
Unfortunately, between now and when this bill is passed, we will continue to be in the same frustrating situation. The police officer suspects that the driver is impaired and presents a danger on the road, but since the impairment is not alcohol-related, which could be verified with an approved screening device or an approved breath test at the police station, he has to let the driver go and possibly kill or harm others. He can only detain the driver if he has solid evidence to arrest him and lay charges.
Bill C-32 will give police officers the tools they need to certify driving impaired by alcohol. First, the officer will be able to require the driver to take an SFST. This test takes roughly five minutes and is conducted on the spot. It consists in looking at the driver's eyes while slowly moving an object, such as a pen, in front of him and watching to see whether the eye movement is jerky. The driver is then asked to walk a straight line, heel to toe, and then turn around and come back. Then the person has to stand on one leg and hold the other leg straight, 15 centimetres from the ground, while counting to 30. Hon. members should try these tests. They will see that they are not difficult. Clearly, if the suspect has a handicap or a health problem that would prevent them from doing the test, they can refuse to do it. The legislation allows for the possibility of “reasonable excuse”. Otherwise, police officers have reasonable grounds to believe that a driver who has failed to pass these tests is impaired. That is the prerequisite for requiring tests to be conducted by DREs.
The evaluation is carried out by an officer trained in drug recognition. The drug-detection tests are based on medical and scientific knowledge. They are designed to identify the presence of seven classes of drugs: central nervous system depressants, better known as tranquilizers; inhalants, including solvents, aerosols and anesthetic gases; PCP, phencyclidine, a dissociative anesthetic; cannabis; central nervous system stimulants, such as speed or cocaine; hallucinogens such as LSD and ecstasy; and narcotics or opiates, like heroin and morphine.
Officers trained in drug recognition can also recognize characteristics of consumption of various drugs.
The DRE evaluation consists of 12 steps. There are three tests of eye movement: horizontal nystagmus, vertical nystagmus and convergence. Nystagmus is an involuntary but observable jerk of the eyeball. Horizontal nystagmus is a jerk that occurs while a person is watching an object move from left to right and back again.
The DRE also administers a modified Romberg balance test, a walk-and-turn test, a one-leg stand, and finger-to-nose test. The DRE then takes three vital signs: blood pressure, body temperature and pulse.