moved that Bill C-275, an act to amend the Criminal Code (failure to stop at scene of accident), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker,Bill C-275, which is now being called Carley's law, is in memory of 13 year old Carley Regan who, on January 6, 2003, was fatally struck by an automobile driven by Paul Wettlaufer, an individual whose licence was under suspension and who had no less than 11 driving prohibitions and citations in the preceding six years. He also injured her younger sister and her friend. With a reckless disregard for the welfare of the victims, Wettlaufer then proceeded to leave the scene of the accident in a subsequent attempt to conceal what he had done.
That is not an isolated incident. Research indicates that in 70% of hit and run cases, and they are in the thousands every year, the driver was likely impaired. In this case, witnesses testified that Wettlaufer was swerving back and forth in a manner consistent with being impaired while under the control of a vehicle.
I think it is important to go through the chronology to point out the tragedy and the seriousness of this event.
After turning himself in the following day, Paul Wettlaufer pled guilty to three counts of hit and run and one count of driving while under suspension. This perpetrator, who averaged approximately one driving infraction every six months for the prior six years, was never required to stand trial for dangerous driving causing death or impaired driving because of a plea bargain. Under the plea bargain agreement he received an 18 month sentence which was reduced to 14 months for time served. He served a total of 10 months for this terrible crime.
Bill C-275, an act to amend the Criminal Code, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, would ensure that perpetrators of such violent and criminal acts are held responsible and accountable for their actions. The bill is long overdue. It would eliminate plea bargaining for hit and run offences, which is sorely needed. It would provide a minimum sentence of seven years in prison for those convicted of hit and run causing death, which is sorely needed. It would provide a minimum of four years in prison for those convicted of hit and run causing bodily harm, which again is sorely needed.
To date, perpetrators of hit and run offences causing bodily harm or death have almost never received more than two years for this violent crime. The tragedy of our justice system is that it has become so sick that people who commit violent crimes are simply not dealt with in a manner that is acceptable to our society.
Whenever we read something like this in the paper where the convicted person was let off with a slap on the wrist for a violent crime they committed, I, like Canadians all across this country, just roll our eyes and ask where the justice is. What is wrong with our justice system that this could be allowed to happen over and over again?
Bill C-275, Carley's law, would bring sentences for hit and run offences in line with sentencing guidelines for other violent crimes, namely manslaughter and attempted murder, because it is as serious a crime as manslaughter or attempted murder.
Currently too many hit and run perpetrators are afforded the luxury of pleading no contest or guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a combination of reduced jail time, house arrest, and/or conditional sentences.
One of the most common occurrences in a hit and run incident is where a driver, knowing he has hit a person and knowing he probably was impaired, if that was the case, flees the scene only to show up or call his lawyer the next morning saying that he thinks he hit a deer last night but that he is not sure. The lawyer tells him that an incident did happen in the area he described and tells him that he should go with him to the police station and turn himself in. At the police station the lawyer says that his client believes he hit a deer last night but that he was not sure and therefore called him this morning. That is almost an every day occurrence in the event of a hit and run incident and it has to stop. Bill C-275, Carley's law, can help that.
Under our current system, in almost every case it is often more advantageous for impaired drivers to flee the scene of an accident in which bodily harm or death has occurred than it is to face the consequences. With the precedents the courts have set and the plea bargaining that has gone on for so many years to drive the sentences down where they mean nothing, it is more advantageous to flee the scene of an accident where a person has hit someone and caused death or bodily harm than it is to stay there and wait for the police.
The strict penalties for impaired driving causing death and manslaughter serve as a disincentive for remaining at the scene of a serious accident. That is another story. The laws are on the books but the courts are simply not using them.
Fleeing the scene of an accident should not allow perpetrators to flee their social and legal responsibilities and obligations. During the discussion in the debate on the Criminal Code as it applied to impaired driving, I made a point in the House and I think we have to apply that point to this. I said back then that it was time to stop regarding impaired driving as simply another social ill and begin to regard it as the violent criminal act that it is. We have to apply that type of thinking to hit and run perpetrators who flee the scene of an accident. Let us stop thinking of hit and run accidents as simply another social ill for which the court will apply a slap on the wrist type of penalty and out the perpetrator walks in a very short time.
There are many documented cases in which the lack of action on the part of the perpetrator immediately following an incident has directly affected the victim's survival. How many needless deaths from hit and run incidents could have been prevented if drivers had remained at the scene? This poses a serious safety risk to the Canadian public and the perpetrators of hit and run offences must be considered violent offenders.
For my Liberal friends across the way, and my hon. friend from Thunder Bay knows what is coming next, it is interesting to note that the majority of this country's provincial justice ministers and attorneys general support the elimination of conditional sentencing for violent crimes. It is important that the Liberals across the way know that to be the truth and that it be reflected when it comes time to determining where the bill should go.
I know the Liberals love to govern by polls so I have another point to make. Public opinion further indicates that 70% of Canadians oppose the use of conditional sentences for persons convicted of violent crimes and approximately two-thirds support the elimination of these sentences for violent impaired driving offences.
Those are Canadian people who are sending the government the message that they have had enough. They are waiting for the government to start taking crimes of violence such as this seriously and sending a message to the courts that the penalties are on the books and it is time for the courts to start using them.
It is tragic to say that in 2001 some changes were made to the Criminal Code as it affected impaired driving. Prior to that bill being passed, the latitude for sentencing for impaired driving causing death was from 0 to 14 years. The average sentence for impaired driving causing death was about three to four years. Most often it was on the lower range.
A bill was passed in the House which increased the latitude from zero to life imprisonment, a sentence that could be given to someone found guilty of impaired driving causing death where there were aggravating factors. There have been a lot of aggravating factors since that bill was passed.
Everyone would probably be interested to know that the average sentence given to a person convicted of impaired causing death after the latitude was extended to the possibility of life imprisonment is still in the neighbourhood of two to four years. How does one figure that? The people of Canada are outraged that this is still happening despite the fact that the Criminal Code was changed to allow for higher sentences.
People are still getting into their cars drunk, killing people, fleeing the scene and serving little or no time for the offence. It is time the courts were sent a message and this is where it can happen, in this place, which is the highest court in the land.
I expect my Liberal friends will stand and say that we cannot talk about minimum sentences of seven years for hit and runs causing death or fleeing the scene of an accident or a minimum sentence of four years for fleeing the scene where bodily injury has been caused. The Liberals did it all through debate on the impaired driving bill. They just cringed at the thought of minimum sentences because they said that it would throw the justice system completely askew.
I admit that the justice system is not working but it is not because of minimum sentences. I think about 28 sections of the Criminal Code call for minimum sentences. We are saying that if there are 28, there should be 30, 2 more, as it deals with fleeing a scene of an accident where someone has caused death or bodily injury.
It is absolutely time that we start applying appropriate sentences for these violent crimes in the hopes of reducing the number of hit and run incidents in this country and my colleagues across the way know that.
Too many families have been faced with the tragic loss of loved ones while the perpetrators who killed them spend less than two years in prison for what they have done. It happens too often. This bill is a necessary first step in holding those in our society who have a reckless disregard for human life accountable for their actions.
I plead with my hon. colleagues in the Liberal Party, the Bloc and the NDP to recognize the seriousness of this and do everything they can to ensure that this bill goes to the justice committee. If they want to add some amendments to it and tailor it so as not to affect the effectiveness of it, we would welcome that.
I humbly ask for the support of my colleagues from the Liberal Party, the Bloc and the NDP on Bill C-275. We really need to get this bill to the justice committee and I hope my colleagues will support it.