House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was impaired.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

In fact, Mr. Speaker, Bill C-32 is proposing more tools for the police. I should say that Mothers Against Drunk Driving are in favour of this legislation, as we know, as is the president of the Canadian Professional Police Association.

However, the member asked specifically about the police officers themselves. That is extremely important. What we often find is the problem that we come up with amendments to the Criminal Code which require all kinds of different resources to be applied, but we do not follow up with providing those resources. We either do not have the court time to deal with these additional cases or we in fact do not have the manpower to be able to do it.

The federal government creates these laws and then the provincial governments have to apply and enforce them. If the provinces and territories are not given the resources, what happens is that good laws just do not work. The member is quite right.

However, more tools are provided in the bill. The police will be able to demand that a person suspected of driving while impaired by alcohol or drug participate in a sobriety test at the roadside. That is different. That is going to actually improve the job, because police will not have to go through the legal mumbo-jumbo of getting a court order for that. Also, the police will be able to demand that a person suspected of driving while impaired by a drug participate in a physical test and a bodily fluid sample test. Those things are going to happen.

Police are also not going to be hung up in court as long, simply because there is going to be some sharp limiting of the witness evidence that is available under the current law. It is going to be curbed under the proposed law.

However, the member is correct. This raises an important issue that the committee has to look at. If we expect the provinces to enforce these laws and to have people properly trained, they must have the resources to do it. It is our responsibility to make sure that the finance minister over there is going to be cognizant of the demands that we are making with regard to the policing authorities all across the country, many of which are outside the federal jurisdiction.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Obviously, Mr. Speaker, impaired driving is a scourge in our country on the streets of all our communities.

I wonder if the member could comment more fully, however, on the coincidence of the decisions made in September by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice to table Bill C-32 on the same day that they announced cuts to the pilot program for testing or providing training for the detection of drug impaired drivers, to the sum of some $4.2 million. Only after some political pressure did they announce that eventually the government might offer a program worth $2 million for some training that has yet to be announced.

How crucial to the success of this bill is the training to detect drug impairment?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right. The facts he has given are my understanding of the facts.

The bill specifically relies very heavily on expert assessment and analysis by the policing authorities. That means they are going to have to be trained. It means there are going to have to be additional resources for them to be able to discharge those responsibilities.

All I can say is that it is puzzling that the government would dismantle something at the level of some $4 million only to bring it back in part, unless the government is suggesting that somehow it needs the money for other purposes, but either we are committed to the bill or we are not. I much suspect that the government has followed a pattern: wherever it does not suit its current purpose, good programs will be sacrificed without considering the consequences. I think the government has made a bad decision.

However, we cannot worry about what the government has done in the past. What we have to worry about is making sure that we as legislators around here, those who care to do it, make good laws and wise decisions.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague almost argued in support of the bill. He mentioned that, at one time, drugs were less potent than they are today. I hope that that is not true. Drugs are drugs.

I would like to ask him a very different question. He wondered whether this bill could stand up to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 1982, the Liberal Party introduced a charter that the Province of Quebec did not sign. We did not sign the charter. The Criminal Code is one of the rights governed by the federal government, but we did not sign the charter. In addition, the other rights and freedoms of the charter have not been or could not be implemented since 1982.

When my colleague talks of being charter proof, is he referring to the fact that the Criminal Code no longer applied to the Province of Quebec because we did not sign the charter, which gives the federal government this authority?

I would like to hear my colleague, an academic, answer this question.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, we could spend too much time on this. I would just suggest to the member that he do everything in his power to see that Quebec reconsiders and signs the charter.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to compliment my colleague on his eloquent speeches on this topic, on the topic yesterday and on every topic that comes before the House.

I have a question on the technology. When the Liberals brought this bill forward, the most problematic part was the state of the technology for assessing drugs at the site. I wonder if he could update us on whether that technology has improved to make this bill more realistic. There was a problem in the detection.

We all want to detect and stop drivers impaired by drugs, but there was a technology problem at the time. I wonder if he has any update on the state of the technology.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question, because the technology is there to detect what is in the system. The issue is whether the person was impaired, and it depends. In fact, I think the example has been given that marijuana can be detected in the blood system for four weeks, but the impairment may only last for hours, so it is not just a matter of whether or not it is there.

As for the evidence that the technology is available, we can just simply to look at what has been done in terms of the drug testing that now is done for the Olympics and for professional athletes, et cetera. The detection is there now, but there has to be the linkage to impairment. That is why we need the training for the DREs: for them to be able to detect the signs and to get the proper information and observations down so that their expert testimony and the results of drug testing will in concert indicate that likelihood, along with other evidence they may have.

I am not at this point sure, but this is one of the reasons why we have a committee to look at a bill after we get a chance here, before we have heard any of the current testimony of witnesses and experts in the fields and disciplines that are relevant to this bill. It is important that this bill get to committee. It is important to hear questions such as the one the member just posed, extremely important, in order to make absolutely sure that we understand the tools being proposed under this bill in fact are going to be effective and are indeed going to be properly funded all across the country.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

February 6th, 2007 / 4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, if no one else wants to speak to the bill, there are some items I want to bring forth.

First, like everyone in the House, I want to do everything possible to stop impaired drivers, whether or not they are impaired by drugs, which is the emphasis of this particular bill. Of course, our party and the others, I am sure, have had this as an ultimate goal. Our party brought forward Bill C-16 in the previous Parliament to try to deal with this issue.

Following up on my last comment, the problem we were having at the time was with the detection of various drugs in the system and the discernment of the impairment due to them, and how it could be proved to the extent that we would be successful in prosecutions.

We should not let that stop us. For those reasons, we have to keep working on that technology and training. We have to keep working on the ability to convict people and to determine with regard to the various drugs what impairment is, how it can be measured, and how it can be prosecuted to make sure that needless accidents do not occur, injuring families, children and other innocent people.

I want to comment on what the previous member said. I will take a step out from this bill for a minute to comment on his remark about the lineup of justice bills in committee. I commend the justice committee members for such a heavy agenda, but I disagree with the hon. member that those bills should have been put into an omnibus bill, thus putting them all together to make it faster, because there were a number of very controversial bills, to be nice about it, bills that went against the basic mainstream of modern thought in the judicial system, a number of which we believe would increase crime in Canada, would be soft on crime and would put more trained criminals on the street. If we were to put a number of controversial bills together and people were to vote against one of them, it would kill the whole bill. In that respect, the government would not have had anything get through.

However, we are dealing with bills of such a serious nature, bills about incarcerating a larger number of Canadians and using a large number of resources for that, resources that could be used for police or prevention, bills about reducing judges' discretion and pay rate, and bills about taking away the conditional sentences that are so effective for aboriginal people and others in stopping recidivism when the old system of simple incarceration and putting people in prison to train to be better criminals is not working.

When we have a number of serious bills like these, I would not like to see them all put into one bill. I do not think people realize the magnitude of the threats to a good judicial system that were before us in Parliament. I think the government did the right thing by bringing each bill forward individually so they could be debated individually, even though it means more work for us in the justice committee in making sure that these serious proposals are dealt with seriously and at length and with a number of expert witnesses to help us in that direction.

Going back to BillC-32, although we are strongly supportive, we certainly want a serious investigation in committee, along with the long lineup of bills we do have in that committee. For one thing, we want to look at the practical tools available for the analysis of different drugs in the system. We want to look at the analysis and the effect on impairment, at the way to measure this and the way this would stand up in court in a prosecution.

A previous question by one of our colleagues brought up a good concern related to resources. That is a concern not only for this bill but for several other bills before the House at this time.

We should also ask at committee whether the attorneys general are willing to prosecute the bill and whether they have the resources. Do they think this has a high enough priority to divert resources for the training and the enforcement? This certainly will add a significant burden to a task for which they only have limited resources. That certainly has to be investigated in committee.

We want to ask those people, including the police forces and the attorneys general, what their feelings are about whether they want a bill, whether they can enforce it, whether they have the resources to do so and what can be done about it.

It would also be important to talk to the police officers who have had experience in the roadside checks and ask them about the problems they may have had on the more simple cases that we have at the moment with the tools that are now available, the ones that have been tested and proven. We should ask them how they think this system would work when it is outlined.

Another section in the bill relates to increasing the penalties for alcohol crimes and making stiffer sentences for the various levels of alcohol crimes. I certainly think we should have a discussion on that in committee.

I would say that the majority in parliamentarians are primarily against increasing minimums or even imposing minimums for many crimes because the experts have told us, quite clearly in committee, that it is not effective and that it does not work.

Maximums can be added to crimes to give a judge more discretion, a judge who understands the situation, who wants to penalize unrepentant repeat offenders and who wants to take seriously some of these crimes. I think those should be discussed in committee so we can have the type of debate we have already been having in committee about various sentences and also comparing them with other crimes and the types of sentences that are available for other crimes, the types of options, and to ensure that driving while under the influence of alcohol or under anything else that would be seen as driving impaired and threatening innocent citizens, is seen as a serious offence.

Another section in the bill, which should be discussed in committee, and I think I asked this previously of the parliamentary secretary, is the section relating to the taking of fluids and body sample tests. This would be needed to analyze the blood level for various drugs required in this bill.

Every time we come to a provision such as this in various bills, such as in the good Samaritan act, discussions take place about the volatility of the body and the privacy of a person. We need to ensure that this law is written very carefully so that people are protected but, on the other hand, that the general citizenry are protected from a person who would drive impaired and is a threat to us all.

Another section of the bill that I would like to ask questions on in committee relates to restricting the use of evidence to the contrary.

A jury or a judge can throw out any evidence if they think it is fallacious, not useful or just a decoy to detract from the real issues in the case but, nevertheless, I find it hard to understand how, in our present justice system, any evidence can be restricted. Evidence is evidence. People should be able to bring forward evidence and the judge and jury should decide on the evidence that has come forward. They can dismiss poor evidence but I do not think we can say that evidence cannot be brought before the court and then convince people that we have a fair justice system.

The bill contains many good items but a lot of areas still need to be looked at. As I said, we were looking at this and we also proposed a bill because people were being taken out of their vehicles and being charged for being under the influence of alcohol when they could have easily been under the influence of drugs and have caused the same carnage to innocent people. We have no mechanism in place to catch those people, to analyze the situation and to prosecute them successfully.

If we can refer this to committee, hopefully we can ensure that the bill will be effective in achieving the goal that I am sure everyone in the House wants, which is to make our streets safer by getting people, who would wilfully put themselves in the situation of harming both themselves and others, off the roads. They need to understand that we take this seriously and that we will put the resources into both the technology, training and the drafting of a law that will be effective in reducing this type of unnecessary carnage and accidents affecting innocent people on our highways.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for supporting the bill and sending it to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I commend him and all the members of this House for taking to heart the problems related to alcohol.

In Quebec, my province, we have a serious problem with impaired driving. Many of those who die have alcohol levels higher than the 0.0 presently tolerated. Many people lose children or their wife and there is carnage—you used the term carnage—or, at least, very serious accidents.

As the member for Yukon, can my colleague tell me if, in his province, there is legislation that provides compensation irrespective of liability? In Quebec, we have such a law and there is no civil liability. Even if we kill someone with a vehicle while impaired, which is criminal, we are absolved of any civil liability. The only punishment for a Quebec driver is dispensed by the Criminal Code, because there is legislation that does not attribute civil liability.

My colleague for Yukon and I are members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I appreciate his contribution. Can he tell us if there is the same problem in the Yukon? If an impaired driver kills someone, is he civilly liable under Yukon law?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, in relation to the Yukon highway traffic act, although I am not familiar with the specific details that the member might be asking about, but in the Yukon situation I would like to say that our society is so harmonious that we have no misuse of substances but that is not entirely true.

We definitely have, unfortunately, our own levels of poverty and social problems that often lead to substance abuse. We also have, what I am sure they have in many parts of Canada, the enforcement of the existing laws. We have stop checks and people are charged under the Criminal Code. We also have good warning systems in our society. We have warnings related to alcohol. We have warnings on our liquor bottles relating to the harm to fetuses, which I would hope they would have across the country.

I commend the police and public organizations, such as MADD, for holding good public information sessions on the harm of drinking and driving. The best way to reduce something is not through crime and punishment in the first place, but through education and convincing people of its effects. If they understand its effects then they will definitely not reoffend.

I do not think we have the types of laws that the member is talking about but we certainly seriously enforce the Criminal Code and enforce against the criminal use of substances in our area because it can be just as dangerous as everywhere else, especially with slippery, icy roads and lengthy highways where people need to drive long distances, sometimes on gravel roads where it is easier to lose control of a vehicle.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, when I look at the bill, I think of what happened in the past with the regulations that were set for the consumption of alcohol and driving. We went through a fairly rigorous process of determining over the years scientifically that it was .08, but we have seen movement now to a higher level of intolerance with alcohol content in the body. My riding has gone to .05. This has not been done through a process but through pressure rather than a scientific understanding of the nature of impairment.

With this particular bill, where we are dealing with a multitude of substances taken singularly and in combination, how do ensure that we are charging people who are actually impaired, in other words, providing incontrovertible evidence or even a standard of application that can give some surety to the courts and to our citizens who are human beings like all of us and may partake in one or other of the substances that are part of the common culture in Canada?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, that is basically why the member for Mississauga South and I were saying that this bill needs to go to committee. That is a very good question that the committee needs to answer. It will need to look at the technology, at the training and at the types of tests because it is very complicated when there is a mixture of drugs and alcohol.

How can one provide incontrovertible proof, at least enough for a prosecution? We do not want arbitrary detention of people by the police or prosecution in an arbitrary manner. We want scientific proof. The committee will need to be convinced that this is available and if it is not available I would encourage the government to invest more funds to ensure it becomes available.

The member also raised an interesting point about the levels of drugs. In Germany it is .05 and in Sweden it is .02. In case I do not get a chance to comment on this, we have a bill before the justice committee that would provide a summary conviction from .05 up to .08 and the existing law would continue.

The one concern I have about that is that we ensure it will be the type of conviction that does not get recorded in our criminal system in the way that criminal records are kept for the lesser offences because there are problems when people cross borders, for instance, into the United States.

In Canada people can get pardons for those types of offences eventually. Once people have shown regret, paid the penalty and proven it was a mistake they can obtain a pardon but, unfortunately, that pardon does not carry over into the United States. We now have people who may have had a small problem due to youthful exuberance and then it is over with but they are forever listed in other countries and cannot get across borders.

That is a point I will be bringing forward when it comes time for debate on that bill, a consideration of the way that particular bill has been written on lowering the blood levels from .08 to .05.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?