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

Ministerial Motor Vehicles
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Ministerial Motor Vehicles
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I had a feeling these extra questions would lead to trouble.

The hon. the government House leader.

Ministerial Motor Vehicles
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's security needs are determined by the RCMP.

But I notice that the opposition House leader, on January 18, 2004, when he was a minister, and his staff used the Challenger to travel from Ottawa to Ottawa on a half-hour flight. I do not understand that one.

On August 9, 2004 he and his wife travelled to Regina. A Challenger brought them back to Ottawa with passengers. Strangely enough, at the same time, he also requested a Challenger jet to London for a trip to Africa. Two Challenger jets in the air at the same time for one minister. It is unbelievable.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of the Hon. Marie Bountrogianni, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs for Ontario, and the Hon. Rob Renner, Minister of the Environment for Alberta.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would also like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of Mr. Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut to act as Mission Specialist and operate the Canadarm in orbit.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maka Kotto Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Canadian Heritage misled the House when she stated that I supported the idea that the film industry had adequate funding for its development, which is incorrect, if you refer to the additional report that the Bloc Québécois tabled in committee, and which is also incorrect, if you refer to the three motions the Bloc Québécois had adopted in committee in December.

I would therefore like the minister to apologize and withdraw her defamatory statement.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

We will perhaps wait for something from the minister, but I will look at the minister's earlier statements. If necessary, I will inform the House of my decision.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Prior to oral question period, the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant had the floor. She has 13 minutes to complete her remarks. The hon. member now has the floor.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, we were debating Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving).

As the deputy justice critic and like my party, I consider the bill very important because it aims to provide the instruments required to enable police to fight impaired driving effectively. I do think, however, that we must look more closely at certain elements of this bill, as the proposed additions warrant analysis to ensure their real effectiveness.

Among the concerns I would like to share with the House is my hope of meeting experts and groups in the course of the deliberations of the Standing Committee on Justice who can shed light on the following points. First, as this committee's report entitled “Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving" rightly pointed out, the nature and the legislation pertaining to the concept of “reasonable grounds” used by the police to have people tested must be defined. This definition would be vital should a driver suspected of driving while impaired refuse, because it would become a criminal offence. This is in fact what the current bill is proposing, but it remains fuzzy as to the “reasonable grounds” used by the police.

In addition, it would seem basic to find a proven screening test that is both quick and non invasive. Do we have the technology? Which drugs are we screening for? I think this warrants our attention, since, with the variety of drugs currently available and their various effects on the human body, it becomes increasingly relevant to look at the methods and scientific processes used in screening.

But again, how are we going to distinguish between illicit drugs and legal drugs, prescription medications, that is? A person can be in legal possession of those medications, but the person's faculties may be impaired by their effects, effects that are clearly stated in the warnings given about the medications.

And then, in logistical terms, do we actually have the equipment that would enable us to do a simple roadside test for all drugs, as we do for alcohol with the breathalyzer? Let us recall that the bill would authorize the police to do a drug test during a roadside spot check. It is therefore important to have very effective, tested tools, to keep potential legal challenges to a minimum. As well, this must be done with utmost respect for the spirit of the Charter, and they must be as constitutional as possible. We often think of taking a blood sample as an intrusive action. In addition, there is the fact that it sometimes takes a long time to get the results of a blood analysis, so the offender has to wait to know whether charges will be laid against him or her.

As well, in legal terms, all of these complications have to be avoided so the bill does not end up in interminable court challenges. As members probably know, impaired driving, particularly driving with a blood alcohol level over 80, is one of the offences in the Criminal Code that is most difficult to prove. As I noted earlier, the “two beer” defence is a perfect example.

Let us also not forget the prohibition set out in clause 8(3) and 8(5) on using oral testimony alone to defend against an incorrect charge. We should give this our full attention in order to determine whether it is valid.

Last, in social terms, impaired driving awareness campaigns have in fact had some success in reducing this kind of offence. Will there be financial and human resources allocated, however, for an education campaign about driving while impaired by drugs?

We must also not forget that the higher fines proposed by Bill C-32 will certainly have a greater effect on lower income brackets in the population than on the more well-off members of society.

These are a few points that show, beyond any doubt, how important it is to work on this bill and make it into something even better.

I repeat that the Bloc Québécois takes this matter very seriously and will participate in developing standards and measures that are intelligent and effective for achieving the desired results. As well, we support initiatives to provide law enforcement agencies with concrete and effective methods for enforcing laws that are designed to deal with driving while impaired by alcohol and other drugs.

That is why we are prepared to support Bill C-32, so that it can be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The committee would then be able to study the bill in depth and call witnesses who could offer their expertise. As well, it could propose the amendments that it thought necessary in order to make Bill 32 even more effective.

I will add that we still have reservations about some aspects of this bill, which I described earlier. I therefore hope that the government will work constructively with all opposition parties so that those reservations are taken into consideration and the result is useful and effective legislation.

To conclude, therefore, I hope that all of the points I have raised will be addressed by witnesses and experts who will respond to them when they appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in the near future.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her excellent presentation, which addressed what needs to be said about this bill and outlines the Bloc's position on it.

Is the hon. member aware of any such legislation elsewhere in the world? Does she know whether there are plans to examine that legislation to find out what results it has had in relation to this specific sort of action?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

I thank my colleague for his question. In the United States, the breathalyzer offers many options.

However, with regard to studies on drugs, we will need to check with expert witnesses. That is what the Standing Committee on Justice and Human RIghts was preparing to do.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-32, an act to amend the Criminal Code to strengthen the enforcement of drug impaired driving offences in Canada.

On November 4, 2004, the former justice minister under the Liberal government introduced Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. This new legislation builds on Bill C-16 but includes stronger penalties than our bill had proposed.

Bill C-32, the Conservatives' proposed reforms to the Criminal Code, include increasing penalties. Drivers would be charged if in possession of illicit drugs. Drivers with blood alcohol levels exceeding .08 would face a life sentence penalty in the case of causing death and a maximum 10 year sentence in the case of causing bodily harm. These provisions are in addition to existing provisions that hold an alcohol or drug impaired driving offence that causes bodily harm to be punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and that such an offence that causes death is punishable by life imprisonment.

Impaired drivers would face higher mandatory minimum penalties. For a first offence, the fine would increase from $600 to $1000. For a second offence, sentences would increase from 14 days mandatory prison to 30 days minimum. For a third offence, prison sentences would increase from 90 days minimum to 120 days minimum. When the offence is punishable on summary conviction, the maximum term of imprisonment would increase from 6 months to 18 months.

The bill would also provide more tools for the police. Police would be able to demand that a person suspected of driving while impaired by alcohol or a drug participate in a sobriety test at the roadside and police would be able to demand that a person suspected of driving while impaired by a drug participate in physical tests and bodily fluid sample tests.

The Criminal Code currently makes it an offence to drive a motor vehicle when one's ability is impaired by alcohol or a drug, or a combination of alcohol and drugs. There is a further offence with respect to alcohol while driving while one's blood alcohol limit exceeds the legal limit of .08%.

The anomaly is that currently there is no legal drug limit. There are non-quantifiable tests such as erratic driving and witness testimony. If the driver voluntarily participates, results of a drug test are admissible but this a very rare occurrence. As a consequence, police powers for obtaining evidence of drug impaired driving are very limited.

It is urgent that Parliament address drug impaired driving. The 2002 Senate special committee report on illegal drugs, “Cannabis: Our position for Canadian Public Policy”, found that between 5% and 12% of drivers may operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis. Further, a survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation revealed that in 2002 almost 20% of Canadian drivers had taken the wheel less than two hours after consuming a potentially impairing drug. This included both legal and illegal drugs. These statistics and findings must be reversed.

In 1999, I chaired the justice committee when we studied the issue of impaired driving and prepared a report entitled, “Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving”. The committee was very frustrated with the appreciation that drugs play a contributing role in motor vehicle accidents but that there were no practical legal limits to test for drugs.

There is no scientific consensus on the threshold drug concentration levels in the body that cause impairment making driving hazardous. Unlike the Breathalyzer tests used for alcohol, there is no objective test to measure drug impairment. Further, there is no measurable link between drug impairment and drug quantity. In addition, traces of some drugs could remain in the body for weeks. For instance, the active ingredient in cannabis can be detected for up to four weeks, although its impairing effects do not last. Because there is no scientifically proven threshold, it is not possible to propose a legal limit.

Because there is no clear drug limit testing, a drug recognition expert, DRE, is acknowledged as a necessity.

The lack of authority for police to make a demand for drug testing was a concern that was raised in a number of credible submissions to our committee, such as the Canadian Bar Association, the Province of Ontario, the Canadian Automobile Association and others, who called for expansion of police powers to allow a demand for drug testing.

The committee had concerns about drafting such provisions. Parliament would need to provide legislative guidance on what would constitute reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the offence has occurred. Further, the power to demand bodily samples for drug testing, such as blood, would be intrusive and require consideration of potential violations of the Charter of Rights.

Notwithstanding that, the committee in recommendation 12 suggested a Criminal Code amendment to allow a judge to authorize the taking of a blood sample to test for the presence of alcohol or drugs based on reasonable and probable grounds that an impaired driving offence has been committed. The committee also recommended consultation with the provinces and territories to develop legislation aimed at better obtaining evidence against suspected drug impaired drivers.

The Department of Justice consulted extensively with the provinces and territories, following which the Liberal government introduced two identical pieces of legislation in two subsequent parliaments to deal with this problem. Indeed, the Liberal Party takes impaired driving very seriously. Unfortunately, both Bill C-32 and Bill C-16 died on the order paper when elections were called in November 2004 and 2005 respectively. The Conservatives have reintroduced very similar legislation, with stronger penalties, however.

Passage of the new Bill C-32 will be a significant step toward making roads safer and protecting the public. It will give the police the authority to demand standardized field sobriety tests at the roadside. The officer must have reasonable suspicion of alcohol or a drug in the body before making the demand. The standard test involves walking heel to toe, following with the eyes the officer's hand movement, and balancing on one leg with the other leg held in front about six inches off the ground.

These roadside tests take about 10 minutes. If the driver fails the roadside test, the officer then would have reasonable grounds to demand a breath test on an approved instrument in the case of alcohol. In the case of a drug, the officer would have reasonable grounds to demand an evaluation by an officer certified to do drug recognition expert or DRE tests back at the police station.

The purpose of the evaluation is to identify the class of drugs, if any, that is causing impairment. The evaluation further involves physical tests and checking of vital signs. This evaluation takes about 45 minutes. Following the identification of a class of drugs, the officer could then demand a sample of a bodily fluid, urine, blood or saliva, to test for the presence of a drug.

Refusal to comply with a police order to submit to a roadside sobriety test or to an evaluation at the police station, or to provide a bodily fluid sample, would constitute a criminal offence, just as it is now an offence to refuse a police order to submit to an alcohol breath test.

The idea with the drug impaired driving investigation is not to prove that a concentration of a particular drug is exceeded and that therefore the person is impaired. As previously indicated, there would be few drugs for which there would be a scientific consensus on the concentration level at which there would be impairment for the general population of drivers.

The bill proposes no legal limits for the wide range of drugs. Instead, the idea is to provide for the investigation of a driver's drug impairment by observing physiological symptoms that are unique to a particular class of drugs, and then to confirm with a bodily fluid sample whether the drug was indeed present.

If the tests do not show impairment, the driver is free to go. If the officers see a medical condition, they can obtain medical help.

The combination of steps, that is, the police officer observing the driver's ability to perform the simple tasks of the roadside standardized field sobriety test, the results of the more comprehensive testing by the drug recognition expert, and the confirmation by the independent laboratory analysis of the presence of the drug identified by the DRE as causing the impairment, will provide the necessary checks and balances.

Let us consider the charter considerations. We know that the demands for alcohol breath tests on approved screening devices at roadside, without a right to contact counsel, have been found justifiable by the courts under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, pursuant to the section 1 demonstrable justification limitation on a right.

The right to counsel must be given following the demand for an alcohol breath test on an approved instrument back at the station and before the approved instrument testing is done. It is anticipated that the same practice would prevail for the DRE evaluations envisaged under Bill C-32.

I would suggest that there are aspects of the bill that need further consideration. I do express reservations regarding the new offence of driving while in possession of an illegal drug, where any person found in possession of a controlled substance while operating or in the care or control of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or sailing equipment is guilty of an offence. This provision would apply whether the person is in personal possession of the drug or the drug is simply in the vehicle, provided that the individual knowingly had possession of the drug without lawful excuse for such possession.

I agree with those who claim that this new offence does not belong within Bill C-32 as there is no connection between possession of a drug and impairment and possession of a drug that is already prohibited under section 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Of necessity there will have to be an educational component of this new impaired driving strategy, under either the justice or the health department. Individuals using marijuana may or may not know that they could be impaired and should take this legislation very seriously. Individuals taking prescription or off the shelf drugs may not understand that they could come within the boundaries of this legislation and must ensure that they do not operate a motor vehicle while influenced by such drugs.

I have every confidence that NGOs such as MADD will continue to put out relevant and compelling information in this respect. The federal government should either do the same thing or provide funding assistance to organizations such as MADD to do so.

Impaired driving continues to be a scourge on our society. I will continue to support legislation that will help not only to reduce it but to eventually and ultimately eradicate such conduct.