moved that Bill C-452, an act to amend the Criminal Code (proceedings under section 258), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-452, which is an act to amend the criminal code to make it effective in convicting drunk drivers.
I look forward to discussing the contents of my bill in the House today and as it moves through the House in the future. I think Bill C-452 is a true example of a non-partisan bill.
Today I would like to explain to the House why I decided to put this particular bill forward. I intend to outline the contents of my bill, both in specific and general terms, and provide members with some information which will help them in making their decision to support this proposed legislation.
My intent with regard to Bill C-452 is simple. I want to keep drunk drivers off our roads. I want to stop the death and destruction caused by impaired driving. I want to ensure that when people make the decision to drive drunk, they can no longer be protected by the current loopholes in the Criminal Code.
I want to outline how Bill C-452 would prevent impaired drivers from getting off on technicalities.
Bill C-452 would require the courts to use sample test results as proof of the accused's blood alcohol content at the time of the alleged offence. If the accused were to dispute those results, this bill would then place the evidential burden on the accused to establish factors that affect the reliability of those results based on a balance of probabilities.
Bill C-452 would increase the time allowed for the taking of breath samples from an accused to three hours from the current two. I will explain why that is necessary.
The legislation states that it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more. That is the current Criminal Code. In order to ensure that this law is enforced effectively, Parliament enacted two statutory presumptions.
First, the presumption of accuracy is that the breath or blood tests accurately reflect the driver's blood alcohol content at the time of testing.
Second, the presumption of identity is that the driver's blood alcohol level at the time of testing is evidence of his or her BAC at the time of driving, providing the samples were taken within two hours of the alleged offence.
While Parliament extended the time limit for police to demand breath samples from suspects to three hours in 1999, we failed to make the corresponding changes to the presumption of identity. This means that the Crown has to call a toxicologist to testify in each case that samples are taken more than two hours after the alleged offence.
This is time-consuming and expensive, and often prosecutors will simply choose to drop the charges rather than to spend the time and money it would require to take these cases to court. So, the timeframe for the presumption of identity should be extended to three hours, and my bill would do that.
Once again, I want to be clear about the intention of my bill. The issue of drunk driving, and the pain and destruction caused by drunk driving, has been a concern to me for some time. I want to make Canada's roads safer for all us, for our families and loved ones.
Earlier this year, I met with representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD Canada. They reminded me that drunk driving is still the number one criminal cause of death in Canada.
On average, we lose four Canadians each and every day due to an impaired driver and another 200 are injured each and every day. Those numbers represent hundreds of families who are left to deal with the grief and trauma of having their loved ones killed, or hurt, by a drunk driver. As legislators, we owe it to these Canadians to help reduce this devastation, if possible.
MADD Canada has told me it is possible. It has outlined several areas where our laws are lacking.
When I met with its national president, Louise Knox, several months back, she told me that one major problem stemmed from the fact that the courts have interpreted the Criminal Code in such a manner that breath or blood tests are often thrown out solely on the accused's own testimony, which contradicts the science based test results.
Without these test results being accepted as accurate, the charges are usually dropped or the accused is acquitted. What kind of system is this? What kind of system do we have when an accused's testimony overrides the scientifically tested procedures?
I want to tell the House about the two main defences being used by those accused of drunk driving to avoid punishment. They are exploiting the loopholes in the Criminal Code, which my bill will close.
The first defence is called the Carter defence where the accused testifies that he or she only had a small amount to drink prior to the offence. The defence then calls a toxicologist to confirm that, in fact, the accused's blood alcohol content would definitely have been below the legal limit if such a small amount were consumed.
If the court accepts the accused's evidence, the test results are completely disregarded in the whole process, even if they are consistent with the reading on the roadside screening device, and even if they are supported by the officer's evidence that the accused showed signs of intoxication.
I want to put this defence in perspective. An individual gets picked up due to erratic driving or after he or she has been in an accident. The police suspect impaired driving and do an initial test. It is positive for BAC and is above the legal limit. They then take the individual to the police station to perform another test and once again there is a positive result. So, the police have done their job, right?
Now, we arrive in court. The accused's defence is that he or she drank so little that the test simply must be wrong. That is the sole defence of the accused in many of these cases. The way the Criminal Code is currently written allows judges to throw out the test results which are scientifically based and which have proven to be very accurate.
If a person gets the right lawyer and the right judge, he or she is off the hook for a very serious crime which causes deaths and injuries every day across this country. Or, more accurately, a person gets the wrong lawyer and the wrong judge, and gets off the hook due to technicalities.
My bill would close that loophole and those accused of impaired driving would have to prove on the balance of probability that the test results were wrong.
The second defence that is commonly used, and people often use this technicality as well, is called the last drink defence. In this case, the accused testify that they consumed a large amount of alcohol but that it was consumed immediately before driving. They say that this alcohol would not as yet have been absorbed into the blood stream when stopped by the police. The accused argue that their blood alcohol content was below the legal limit while driving, and only rose above the limit in the interval between when they were stopped and tested.
Again, the breath results are rejected and the accused are acquitted, strictly on their word that they drank a lot, but it was just before they drove, therefore, they could not have been impaired.
These technicalities are simply not an acceptable way for people to get off the hook when they are driving drunk, and getting off the hook when they are killing four people and injuring more than 200 every day.
If this did actually happen, that people did drink too much booze just before getting behind the wheel and then drove, but were not technically over the legal limit when driving, is it unreasonable to change the law to send a clear message that they should simply not drink an amount which would cause them to be impaired and then drive? Better yet, simply do not drink and drive.
What has been the result of these two loopholes being allowed to remain? Despite an estimated 12.5 million impaired driving trips in Canada every year, the majority of offenders are not even stopped by police. We can understand why. Police cannot be everywhere. However even when they are stopped, officers often do not press charges. Police simply do not believe that their work will result in a conviction because the laws are simply not strong enough and there are too many loopholes. Police have told me that the bill would help close the most serious loopholes in the law.
I want to point out that in other countries we simply do not see theses types of questionable offences. For example, the impaired driving legislation in the United Kingdom states that breath and blood tests must be taken into account in all cases and assumes that the blood alcohol content of the accused at the time of driving was not less than that indicated by the test results. The only exception arises when the accused proves that he or she consumed alcohol after driving but before providing the breath or blood sample; and also proves, as a result of this consumption, his or her blood alcohol content would not have exceeded the limit at the time of driving. Obviously this places a much heavier onus on an accused who wishes to challenge the blood alcohol level results from the scientific based testing.
It is similar in the United States. It does not have this problem because the onus is placed on the offender to prove his or her evidence. I believe that Canada is actually the only democratic country that allows these type of defences, and it is absurd that it does. The bill would bring us in line with other democratic countries, and that is important.
Why is the bill important? What are we really talking about here? I want to briefly run through some statistics that will point out the stark realities of drunk driving in Canada. The Traffic Injury Research Foundation has done extensive research on this subject using information from Transport Canada, Statistics Canada and other credited sources.
The statistics are that 85% of Canadians say that they are very concerned about the problem of drinking and driving, and they have good reason. In fact, the death rate from impaired driving is two to three times the national murder rate.
Another statistic: 1,069 people were killed in alcohol related crashes in Canada in 2000 and approximately 75,000 Canadians are impacted by impaired drivers every year. Impaired drivers get behind the wheel of a car 12.5 million times every year but there are only about 70,000 charges laid per year. It is not a very good record. Why is that? The loopholes are a huge part of the problem.
Research has shown that the vast majority of impaired driving trips, 87%, are taken by just 5% of drivers. That partially is because they get a good lawyer, the right judge and they get off on a technicality. This private member's bill would close the loopholes that allow people to get off on a technicality.
In the year 2000, 36% of fatally injured drivers had been drinking prior to the collision. We should note that this reflects driver deaths only, not injuries, nor does it reflect those he or she may have killed or injured as a result of driving impaired.
Given all of that information, I was convinced that I had to do something to ensure that legislation is in place to effectively prosecute those guilty of drunk driving.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank MADD Canada for its dedication to this issue and for the help it provided to me personally in preparing this bill and bringing it to this stage. It has done excellent work in isolating some of the key areas that need to be addressed if we hope to eliminate or even reduce the number of Canadians killed or injured every year due to drunk driving.
I have outlined my bill to the House. I have explained why I have brought the bill forward. I have detailed the lapses in the Criminal Code that make Bill C-452 necessary and important legislation. I have briefly listed some of the statistics which indicate the seriousness of this issue.
I am not naive enough to believe that Bill C-452, on its own, would eliminate drunk driving but I firmly believe it would help. I ask members to join with me in taking the steps laid out in this private member's bill to save Canadian families the unbelievable grief caused through losses and injuries due to drunk driving.