Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, street racing. I urge all hon. members to support this bill, a bill that undoubtedly conveys the importance this government places on ensuring that our communities and streets are safe.
Street racing is a serious crime. Its consequences are equally serious. Street racing is killing and seriously injuring innocent people and is placing all road users and citizens at risk. It has been pursued in communities across our country, in Toronto, Vancouver, Regina and Saskatoon, to name only a few. This government will not stand idly by and allow it to continue.
Indeed, the consequences of inaction on this issue are stark. Our streets will become racetracks and our communities will be at risk. This government is committed to ensuring that we have safe streets and this bill will contribute to that.
In talking about Bill C-19, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the important work of our late colleague and my friend, Chuck Cadman, work which was driven in large part out of a deeply held sense of justice. He believed that our lawmakers and our laws should work to ensure that our communities are safe and that those who would threaten our safety through criminal acts should be held accountable. With this purpose in mind, Chuck introduced Bill C-338 and then Bill C-230.
While Bill C-19 would deal with street racing differently than the amendments proposed by Chuck would have, our goal remains the same, namely, to ensure that our streets are safe. It is in this light that I am proud to be able to speak today on Bill C-19, for I believe that Bill C-19 is about ensuring that individuals who commit serious crimes should be punished in a manner that reflects that seriousness.
Bill C-19 is very much about public safety. Currently, there is no specific offence of street racing in the Criminal Code. Rather, persons who currently engage in street racing could be charged under existing offences such as dangerous driving or criminal negligence. Bill C-19 proposes to create a new offence of street racing. In my opinion, this is important, because it appropriately signals the disdain that we as Canadians feel toward this reckless and dangerous crime. It demonstrates that we will not tolerate this reckless disregard for the safety of others in our community.
Bill C-19 would define street racing to mean “operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place”. The offence of street racing would operate by referencing already existing Criminal Code offences, namely, dangerous driving, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and criminal negligence causing death.
What this means in practical terms is that in street racing situations when a person commits one of the offences I have just listed, the punishments available to them will be tailored to appropriately reflect the unique nature of the crime. The punishment will fit the crime.
There will be tougher penalties than those currently available under our criminal laws. This is consistent with our larger objective of ensuring that the criminal justice system is tough on crime. We will no longer tolerate a justice system that is soft on criminals at the expense of public safety.
In addition, a person convicted of the street racing offence would be subject to a mandatory minimum driving prohibition. Those who choose to treat our city streets and roads as racetracks for their own pleasure, placing the lives of innocent citizens at risk, will have to face the consequences of such careless behaviour.
I would like to add a personal note. When I was a much younger woman, I used to drive a stock car. In fact, I actually did quite well. I think I was the only woman ever to pull a tire off on a quarter-mile dirt track, so members will know I was doing pretty well with our super D stockers. I also have a nephew who has a CASCAR and drives the race circuit in western Canada and the northern United States. Members will know, then, that our family loves speed.
However, I do think there is a place for speed. I think that if young people want to race they should be on a racetrack or a community stock car track of some kind, right across the country. The key to this point that I just mentioned is that I did it at a proper facility. This was as much for my own safety as it was for others'. I obviously have nothing against racing. I love it. I am addicted to the sport. I love the sport, but it must be done when and where it is safe for all involved.
Canadians do not want to see those who have been convicted of a serious street racing crime back behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. My son-in-law, the police officer, most definitely does not. These penalties send a clear, strong message, one that I support.
Currently, a person who is convicted of dangerous driving can face the maximum penalty on indictment of five years' imprisonment. Bill C-19 would retain this penalty in relation to street racing. It would, however, impose for the first offence a mandatory minimum driving prohibition of one year. In addition, the sentencing court would retain discretion to impose a driving prohibition of up to three years and the penalties would go up on each subsequent offence. For a second conviction of dangerous driving while street racing, the mandatory minimum driving prohibition would increase to two years. The court retains discretion to prohibit the operation of a motor vehicle for up to five years.
Beyond two convictions of dangerous driving while street racing, a sentencing court would be required to impose a mandatory three year driving prohibition but would have discretion to impose a maximum lifetime prohibition. This discretion ensures that the courts are able to deal with each instance appropriately and individually.
Operating a motor vehicle is a privilege, not a right. Those who would continue to abuse that privilege and place others at risk of serious harm or death should not be entitled to drive. For the more serious street racing offences, Bill C-19 proposes stringent penalties.
This government made a commitment to make our communities and streets safe and to ensure that the criminal law is strengthened so our laws accurately reflect the significant and lasting impact crime can have on our communities. This government is living up to its commitment. Those who are convicted of dangerous driving causing bodily harm or criminal negligence causing bodily harm in street racing situations will face stiff penalties.
Bill C-19 proposes to increase the maximum penalty available to those convicted of this type of behaviour from 10 to 14 years' imprisonment. Similarly, it would also impose mandatory minimum driving prohibitions for those who commit the most serious offences. For dangerous driving causing death or criminal negligence causing death in street racing situations, the maximum penalty will be life imprisonment. This is a significant increase from the penalty of 14 years currently available for this conduct in our criminal laws. Indeed, life imprisonment is the most stringent penalty our criminal law provides for. This reflects the severity of the crime, its negative impact on society and the seriousness for which our government views this.
This government believes that Canadians deserve safe streets. Bill C-19 is one of many important bills currently before Parliament which will ensure that our communities remain safe.
For example, as it is currently formulated, Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment), would prevent the use of conditional sentences in serious crimes. Serious criminals must be held accountable. These changes to the criminal justice system will ensure that.
The amendments proposed by Bill C-9 are pertinent to street racing as well. In those cases where street racing causes injury or death to another person, a conditional sentence or permitting the offender to serve his or her sentence in the community would not be permitted. This makes sense. A person who commits a serious crime, and let us make no mistake, causing death or injury to someone as a result of street racing is of the utmost seriousness, should not be able to serve his or her sentence in the community.
I should pause for a moment to note that Bill C-19 is not about criminalizing legitimate racing activities nor is it about criminalizing motor enthusiasts. What Bill C-19 is about is ensuring that dangerous and irresponsible street racing is recognized in the Criminal Code for what it is: a serious crime that will not be tolerated.
The Criminal Code amendments proposed in Bill C-19 to address street racing go beyond tougher penalties for this crime. Rather, they speak more fundamentally to the values we hold so dear in Canadian society and the values we wish to live by. Canadians can rightly stand with pride. Canadians live in and contribute to a society that is envied the world over. Our country is known to be safe, just and law-abiding.
Canadians want safe communities. They want to feel secure in knowing that when they leave their homes, whether it is to go for a walk, to drive to work or to celebrate important events with friends and family, they and their loved ones will be safe.
Canadians want laws that work to ensure safety. They should demand nothing less of their government.We, as their elected representatives, have no greater duty than that of ensuring that our laws reflect these values. We must respond to these demands in a measured and responsible way. We have an immense responsibility to ensure that our laws continue to ensure that our communities will be safe for our citizens.
Indeed, as the Minister of Justice has noted, “there is no task more important to any government than the protection of its citizens”. I believe this is true, and our government takes this task very seriously. Bill C-19 will make our streets safer.
Of course we know that strong laws will not curb crime on their own. That is why our government continues to pursue a broad range of measures, legislative and otherwise, to ensure that our communities are safe. For example, we have pledged $20 million over two years to focus on crime prevention activities, including strategies to reduce youth crime. This money will enable us to partner across Canada at the local level to work with at risk youth and thereby prevent crime before it happens.
While we do not have comprehensive statistics on street racing crime, including how often it is occurring and by whom, we do know that it is often caused by young persons. Our government's efforts to better respond to youth crime will also make a difference. Bill C-19 would indirectly enable us to keep better track of who commits these crimes and how often. The proposed provisions will provide a more systematic and comprehensive ability to track street racing offences.
Our government is also committed to strengthening the ability of law enforcement to respond to crime. Good laws are effective only if we have strong police forces across this country to enforce them. I wish to acknowledge the important work being done by law enforcement agencies across this country in combating crime in all forms.
For example, in the greater Toronto area, Project ERASE, which stands for “Eliminate Racing Activity on Streets Everywhere”, works to reduce street racing through the collaboration of multiple police forces. These policing agencies work to reduce street racing through a combination of awareness and strategic enforcement. Bill C-19 would strengthen the ability of law enforcement to move more effectively and respond more quickly to street racing.
In addition, this government has committed to investing nearly $200 million over the next two years to strengthen the capabilities of the RCMP, who are called upon day in and day out to perform many dangerous tasks with the goal of keeping our communities safe. This commitment to our officers will ensure they have the resources needed to perform their jobs.
Strong laws are important, but we must not forget the important role that law enforcement plays in ensuring that they are effective. This government is making certain that law enforcement forces do have the necessary tools to do their jobs. It is a combination of targeted legislative amendments and broader measures to support crime prevention in our country that this government believes will lead to a safer and more secure Canada.
The government is committed to tackling crime by working with our partners at the provincial and territorial level as well. Bill C-19 will complement existing provincial and territorial laws that have been enacted by legislatures across the country to respond to street racing.
Measures used have included fines, vehicle impoundment and licence suspensions. Taken together, these measures provide our law enforcement officers across the country with an effective range of tools to curb this practice. Bill C-19 enhances these tools.
In short, street racing threatens lives and undermines public safety. Bill C-19 would clearly and strongly denounce this crime. It would provide increased accountability for those who engage in it and it would help preserve the kind of Canada that we all expect, one where people can feel safe walking down their streets.
I urge all members in the House to join with me and strongly support the quick passage of this law.