An Act to amend the Criminal Code (failure to stop at scene of accident)

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Dick Harris  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 15, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

September 26th, 2005 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Randy White Conservative Abbotsford, BC

I have many more petitions, Mr. Speaker, asking that Parliament assemble to vote in favour of Bill C-275, an act to amend the Criminal Code (failure to stop at scene of accident), to make sentencing for hit and run offenders more severe. Bill C-275 is long gone and was voted down but will re-enter the House.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 22nd, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the second reading stage of Bill C-275 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2005 / 6:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Wajid Khan Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-275 aims to toughen the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident where there is death or injury. It also aims to make it a whole lot easier for the prosecution to obtain a conviction in death or injury situations. I am certainly not in favour of persons leaving the scene of an accident and escaping liability. However I am also not in favour of Bill C-275. I take note that the Minister of Justice is also not in favour of Bill C-275.

The bill would keep the maximum penalty at life imprisonment for a driver who leaves the scene of an accident where there is a death. It will also jack up the maximum penalty from 10 years to life imprisonment for a driver who leaves the scene of an accident where there is an injury.

I want to note that the maximum penalty for criminal negligence and impaired driving causing death is life imprisonment, just as it is for leaving the scene of an accident that results in a death. However the maximum penalty for criminal negligence and impaired driving causing injury is 10 years. Why is it then that Bill C-275 proposes life imprisonment as a maximum penalty for leaving the scene of an accident where there is injury? I find this part of the bill inexplicable.

Bill C-275 also proposes to toughen sentencing by creating a minimum penalty in death and injury. There would be a minimum penalty of seven years imprisonment for death and four years imprisonment for injury. Here again it is important to look at the fact that for manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, dangerous driving during a police chase causing death, impaired driving causing death and impaired driving causing bodily harm there is no minimum penalty.

Why is it that the death and injury cases of leaving the scene would have a minimum penalty of seven years and four years respectively, while the other offences of similar gravity have no minimum penalty?

The proposal in Bill C-275 appears to be widely disproportionate compared to the penalties for similar offences. I can think of no rational explanation for this.

I see that Bill C-275 aims to make the task of the prosecution easier. This also sounds very noble until one realizes that the bill proposes to eliminate the mental element of the criminal offence of leaving the scene of an accident in death and injury cases.

Upon careful reflection, we appreciate that the requirement to have a mental element within the definition of each criminal offence is a very fundamental aspect of our criminal law. The purpose of such a requirement is to ensure that purely accidental acts will not be criminalized. I find it of more than passing interest that people who are so ready to rail against the charter as shielding offenders are likely to be quite happy to stand upon these same charter rights if one day they are facing criminal charges or need other charter protection.

The truth is that although most of us will never be charged with a criminal offence, the charter is there to ensure that we can sleep well at night and assure us that we will not be deprived of our liberty without respecting principles of fundamental justice. In Canada we take our freedom for such treatment as this for granted. It is only because the courts so carefully protect these fragile freedoms that we take so much for granted.

Often enough, the prosecution cannot prove all elements of a criminal case, including the mental element, beyond a reasonable doubt and the court must find the defendant not guilty as charged, however suspicious the court may be. Most of us will agree that this is the price that we must pay in order to have a system that awards unfairness and wrongful conviction.

Bill C-275 does not share this view. It would throw caution and fundamental principles of justice to the wind and would say that if drivers commit the act of leaving the scene, they are guilty, regardless of whether the prosecution can prove that there was an intention to escape liability and regardless of whether the prosecution can prove that there was knowledge of death or injury. The mental element would no longer matter.

Even if this did not violate the charter, which I believe it does, surely our sense of basic fairness would tell us that we should not be criminalizing every person who leaves an accident scene in which there was death or injury. Given the wide range of reasons that might exist for leaving, surely the existing mental elements within the definition of the offence serve the purpose of ensuring such fairness.

To jump upon the bandwagon of Bill C-275 would be like saying that we should eliminate the mental element of an intention to kill for the crime of murder and charge even cases of accidentally causing a death as a criminal offence of murder because it would make it so much easier for the prosecutor to get a conviction.

I would imagine that people who do flee the scene of an accident with the requisite mental intent do so because they fear that if they remain they will be liable. Therefore they take a chance that they can escape any liability and they leave the scene. The thought process would remain the same, even with the harsher penalty of Bill C-275. The drivers who would leave the scene fear liability and they choose to flee the scene in the belief that they can avoid liability. The question that they are asking themselves is whether they will get caught, not whether the maximum or minimum penalties have been increased.

I will be voting against Bill C-275. It just goes too far because it proposes penalties that do not logically fit with the penalties for similarly serious Criminal Code offences. It goes too far because it proposes to eliminate the mental element for the most serious situations of leaving the scene of an accident, namely, death and injury situations.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2005 / 6 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill C-275, and acknowledge the wonderful hard work that we have seen from the members for Abbotsford and for Cariboo—Prince George.

Every driver's worst fear is to accidentally hit a child who runs between parked cars and chases a ball out into the road or on a dark rainy night hitting someone who darts across the road instead of crossing at a crosswalk. These scenarios could happen to anyone. No one would like to go to jail after experiencing such a horrific event. These drivers are not the ones that Carley's law is targeting.

Carley's law targets the driver who hits someone and then makes a conscious decision to leave, possibly leaving the victim to die. Carley's law would protect Canadians from the driver who makes a choice to flee in the hopes that no one saw the licence plate. Carley's law would protect Canadians from the driver who has an accident and also had a few drinks that day and is more afraid of the penalties of the drunk driving conviction than they are for a hit and run and they choose to flee the scene. Carley's law would protect us from the dangerous drivers who already have a number of convictions and they are afraid of one more and they choose to run. That is who Carley's law will target.

On January 6, 2003, Carley Regan, a 13 year old Langley girl, lost her life when she was struck from behind by a hit and run driver. Carley was rollerblading. Her sister and her friend were bicycling right beside her when all three were hit. The two younger girls were knocked into the ditch, but thankfully were not injured. Carley died on the road.

At the time of the fatal hit and run, driver Paul Wettlaufer was under a driving suspension. On the night of the accident, Wettlaufer maintains he was not drinking or speeding and did not see anyone on the rural road. He said he did not realize what he had struck. When he did realize what had happened, he panicked and fled, leaving the dying girl on the road. Despite him leaving the scene and removing the licence plates from his vehicle, Wettlaufer said he was not trying to cover up the incident. Wettlaufer had 11 previous driving prohibitions and citations in six years.

Carley's law is close to my heart. Carley Regan lived and died in my riding of Langley, B.C. January 6, 2003, is a day that I, too will never forget. Before I was elected as a member of Parliament for Langley, I was the road safety loss prevention coordinator for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. I wrote the report on all Langley traffic fatalities. All fatalities are tragic, but I remember this one vividly because it involved such a young life, such a beautiful girl and a cowardly act.

As anyone who became involved in this case, I became emotionally involved and grieved the loss of that young life.

I had been to the roadside memorial in Carley's honour. In fact, after the accident, I drove that road regularly for a month at different times during the day and evening trying to figure out what had happened. Carley's death was a tragedy that affected many people, and it should not have happened.

To keep our sanity, police officers, health workers and others like myself who work on cases like, we try to keep an emotional detachment. With Carley Regan it was impossible to detach oneself. I would think about what if it was my child, what if it was one of my loved ones? The tragedy was that she lost her life. The tragedy was that the driver should not have been on the road that night. The tragedy was that Paul Wettlaufer had a choice to stop but he did not. He left Carley there dying.

Bill C-275, Carley's law would require a minimum of seven years to life for a hit and run causing death; a punishment less than murder sentences but greater than manslaughter. It would also equate hit and run causing bodily harm with attempted murder, a punishment of four years to life. Carley's law would prohibit plea bargaining cases of hit and run.

Wettlaufer was committed to trial to face charges of dangerous driving causing death. Crown counsel however plea bargained the case with Wettlaufer subsequently pleading guilty to three counts of hit and run and one count of driving while prohibited. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, three years of probation and 10 years driving suspension. He served 12 months in prison and was released.

Carley's law, if passed, will prevent for the first time in Canada crown counsel from plea bargaining the charge of hit and run so that those who hit and run must face the charge. A message needs to be sent that it is unacceptable to evade responsibility by fleeing the accident site.

Bill C-275 is name for Carley Regan, but she is by far not the only victim. We have heard of others from members who previously spoke. In my riding of Langley right after Carley's death there was another Langley hit and run.

A Langley father of two, David Slack, was left to die on the shoulder of the Fraser highway. The person who hit him left him to die. He should have stopped. Right after that in Vancouver there was an elderly gentleman hit and left to die on the side of the road. This happens all too often and they flee with the plan that they will get away and not be caught, and often they are not.

Carley's law would make Canadians aware that if a person hits someone with his or her vehicle, the person must stay at the scene. Carley's law will save lives.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving are asking us for sentencing reform. MADD says that current practices are making a mockery of the Canadian judicial system. MADD Canada wants conditional sentences eliminated for the crimes of impaired driving causing death and impaired driving causing bodily harm. Canadian courts have been frequently handing out conditional sentences for violent crimes, which were never intended by Parliament.

In an impaired driving crash where a person has been killed or seriously injured, there needs to be appropriate sentences handed down that reflect both the seriousness of the crime and our value of life.

Every driver in Canada is aware of the punishment drunk driving. As we have heard, fear of a drunk driving conviction can be an impetus for a person to commit a hit and run, which is just as serious a crime, if not more so. Therefore, if we establish penalties for one crime, we must keep them in line with others. We need Carley's law to keep drunk drivers from simply leaving the scene of an accident to avoid an impaired driving conviction.

MADD Canada wants an active commitment from all members of Parliament to initiate a comprehensive plan that will answer for the loss of lives and the social cost of these crimes.

I am one MP who will do that very thing. I believe legislation like Carley's law needs to be part of a plan. For a justice system to promote public safety and generate public safety confidence, it must place a premium on truth.

Canada's current sentencing system does not promote truth in sentencing. In section 245 of the Criminal Code, 25 years can mean only 15 years and 15 years does not really mean 15 years when we consider parole eligibility: clock running from the point of arrest, not the point of sentencing.

Federal law now permits conditional sentencing, intermittent sentencing, suspended sentencing, merged sentencing and sentence administration. Truth in sentencing means when a judge issues a sentence that is what one will serve.

Carley's law shows the need for complete sentencing reform in Canada. Carley's law highlights the need for truth in sentencing.

The official opposition has been calling for a complete overhaul of our sentencing legislation for many years. Opponents of mandatory minimum sentencing say that it gives unwanted direction to judges who, some fear, have too much flexibility in sentencing. In reality judges are so hemmed in by the current restrictions on sentencing that they have no room to impose the higher sentences that the public demands. We never see maximum sentencing.

Canadians want sentencing reform. We need to bring forward sentencing reform. We need to follow guidelines and principles of minimum sentencing. We can start that right now with Carley's law. We have heard the tragic stories. It is not adequate. My riding of Langley demands better and Canadians demand better. It is our responsibility, each of us in the House, to provide that.

Let us allow Carley's law, Bill C-275, to proceed to committee. If amendments have to be made, the drafters of the bill are open to that, but it will be a good start to providing accountability and eliminating the ability of people to flee from their responsibilities.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2005 / 5:50 p.m.
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Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Gerry Byrne LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that everyone in this House will agree that leaving the scene of an accident where there is death or bodily harm is truly and utterly despicable. In fact, that is precisely why Parliament, in 1999, created a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for leaving the scene of an accident knowing there is death and a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for leaving the scene of an accident knowing there is bodily harm.

These penalties are indeed severe and, quite logically, they parallel the maximum penalties for manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm, and impaired driving causing death or bodily harm. These are all of course very serious offences.

Even if one were to agree with the minimum penalties proposed in Bill C-275, it would be inconsistent to propose minimum penalties for these offences of leaving the scene of an accident without proposing minimum penalties for the other offences that I mentioned. We cannot make seven year and four year minimum penalties for certain serious offences without ensuring that all other similarly serious offences have the same penalties. This bill fails in that regard.

I want to make it very clear to members who have spoken in favour of Bill C-275 that the opposition which they are hearing toward this bill from all other parties in the House has nothing to do with partisan politics. The opposition to Bill C-275 has everything to do, however, with the extremely serious matters of principle and of constitutional law.

In the first hour of the debate, some speakers noted that leaving the scene of an accident was unacceptable behaviour and it must remain a crime. No one condones it. However, speakers from all parties, except speakers from the Conservative Party, appear to agree with the proposals in Bill C-275 that these principles fail the principles of fundamental justice which are part of the Canadian Constitution, like it or not. These are important principles. They are not minor details or troublesome technicalities that could be legislated out of existence with the blink of an eye.

Frankly, the Supreme Court of Canada simply could not uphold in good conscience the validity of this bill. In my view, voting in favour of Bill C-275 would, or could, become a cynical or thinly veiled effort to manufacture a circumstance where it could then be said that the Supreme Court of Canada was thwarting the will of Parliament.

The proponents of Bill C-275 would have us believe that eliminating the requirement of a guilty mind, or mens rea is an easy matter. However, the reality is that when creating a criminal offence there must be an act that is accompanied by a guilty mind. Unlike a regulatory offence where the act in itself is a sufficient trigger, with a criminal offence there must be a mental element that accompanies the prohibitive behaviour. This is a bedrock principle of criminal law and fundamental justice. Bill C-275 proposes to eradicate this fundamental principle when it comes to the offences of leaving the scene of an accident knowing there is death or bodily harm.

There seems to be an underlying theme in some of the speeches supporting Bill C-275 that if we suspect but cannot prove impaired driving causing death or bodily harm by a driver who has left the scene of an accident, we should make it harder on the suspect by throwing out the requirement for the prosecution to prove the mental element of the offence of leaving the scene and get the driver on that issue instead. The prosecution would only need to prove the act of leaving the scene of the accident and the driver would be guilty regardless why he or she left the scene. This is exactly what the bill says as it is drafted.

However suspicious a court might be, our present Constitution tells us that unless the prosecution proves an offence beyond a reasonable doubt, there would be no conviction and no punishment.

The bill appears to be an attempt to punish without having to prove a guilty mind. In cases where the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the offence of impaired driving causing death or bodily harm against a driver who left the scene of an accident appears.

Certain members wish to eliminate the fundamental principles of justice in criminal cases, such as proof beyond a reasonable doubt and the guilty mind requirement. If that is their option, the only true option to seek is an amendment to Canada's constitution. Until there is a constitutional amendment, they will not succeed.

When it comes to sentencing an offender for leaving the scene of an accident, knowing that there was death or bodily harm, the judge has the task of setting the penalty from within the range of penalties that Parliament has enacted. The judge must weigh all circumstances of the offence and the offender. All aggravating and mitigating circumstances must be taken into account and if the defence or the prosecution is not satisfied that the sentence is fit and proper, then either may appeal the sentence.

In cases of leaving the scene knowing there is death or bodily harm, the accused has a right to choose to be tried by a judge sitting alone or by a judge and jury.

Back in the era of capital punishment, there was often a suspicion that juries sometimes would look beyond the evidence in proof of a crime to the penalty that would apply upon conviction and sometimes they might refuse to convict.

There is nothing to suggest that judges are incapable of examining the evidence and registering a conviction, regardless of any personal view they may hold about a particular penalty range set by Parliament. I have every confidence that if the minimum penalties proposed in Bill C-275 were enacted and found to be constitutional, then judges would convict where there would be proof beyond a reasonable doubt and they would not hold the prosecution to an impossible standard of proof as a way to avoid imposing the minimum penalty.

I would not speculate on what juries might do. However, I can say that it is their duty to apply the same test of proof beyond reasonable doubt to the evidence, regardless of the penalty that would flow.

I do want to express my opinion that the minimum penalties proposed in Bill C-275 are somewhat troublesome. If the courts were confronted with these proposed minimum penalties, coupled with the elimination of a mental element for the offence, they would have no choice but to find that the provisions could not withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Let me be very frank. Even if I agreed that the proposed minimum penalties were justified and I were voting for them, I would not be so optimistic as to believe they would significantly reduce the incidence of leaving the scene of an accident. People leave the scene of an accident not because they carefully evaluate the penalties at that moment, but because they think they can completely avoid detection and prosecution or they are gambling that they can avoid detection and prosecution.

In closing, I have two things to say. First, I would ask the rhetorical question. Is leaving the scene of an accident, knowing that there is a death or an injury, deplorable behaviour? Of course it is. Second, does Bill C-275 respect existing constitutional principles that apply to criminal legislation? It does not, and I will be voting against it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 16th, 2005 / 5:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Art Hanger Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-275, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding failure to stop at scene of accident. This bill is commonly known as Carley's law and proposes stiffer sentences for those convicted of hit and run crimes. I would like to commend the members for Cariboo--Prince George and Abbotsford for bringing this bill forward.

I am sure many of us in the House know of someone who has been injured or killed by a hit and run driver. I know that we have seen many headlines. It does not matter what area of the country we are from, we have seen headlines, much like those that I am going to read here, especially for my colleague who just spoke from the Bloc. I think he misunderstood the purpose behind this bill.

These are the headlines: “Student killed in hit and run”, “Teen dies after hit and run accident”, “Hit and run driver still sought”, “Fatal hit and run driver gets slap on the wrist” and “House arrest for fatal hit and run”. Those are some of the headlines across the country dealing with hit and run accidents. Many of them, of course, have been fatal.

For the benefit of my friend in the Bloc, and I listened to his presentation carefully, the incident that brought this bill into being dealt with an offender in British Columbia that had 11 driving prohibitions and citations since 1997. In other words, he had been charged numerous times with impaired driving. He did not learn a lesson. It did not matter how many times he was charged, how many times he was convicted, he did not learn from any of those incidences. That is what brought this about.

The crowning matter was when he ran over and killed a young girl by the name of Carley Regan, a 13-year old girl. She lost her life unnecessarily at the hands of this driver. I can tell the House and the member from the Bloc who thinks this is an absurd bill that this story is being repeated and repeated across the country in just about every city. I am sure that the member of the Bloc can attest to similar types of situations that have occurred in his own province.

That is what concerns us here. It is not the fact that there are these occurrences taking place, it is the fact that they are not being addressed adequately for the seriousness of the crime, and that is the taking of someone else's life or the serious injury of another person. This bill hits those two particular points right on the head. It is a seven year minimum for loss of life and four years for severe damage or personal injury. This is what is happening here.

I will mention one other incident dealing with a Calgary situation. A young father had just come into my office last week. His daughter was killed by a hit and run driver on March 17 of this year. That hit and run driver, in spite of the low penalties associated with this crime, decided to make a run for it and he got out of town because he knew the law was on his heels. He made it all the way to Toronto and he climbed aboard a plane after dispensing some of his personal belongings. He was heading to England when the police walked on to that plane and slapped the cuffs on him. There is no question, when it comes to extradition for a charge such as this, that he would have gotten away scot free. That is how close it was. As it turns out, he is now before the courts in this country.

This family of which I speak is totally devastated by the loss of their daughter at his hands. I know from speaking with the father that he has serious concerns, as do many of us, vis-à-vis the penalties meted out to those who kill someone in a hit and run accident.

This family shares the view of a growing number of constituents and taxpayers in this country that these offenders are getting off far too lightly. The number of families is growing across this land. They are watching issues such as this come forward. They want to see parliamentarians address the matter. They know that there is a political answer to this particular problem. It is all in the legislation.

These people would like to see their concerns addressed in this House. I commend my colleagues, the members for Cariboo—Prince George and Abbotsford for bringing this matter forward. These members took some action. We are encouraging members in other parties in this House to support this particular action. It is not frivolous and not unreasonable.

If we think of it in our own situation, it may be one or our sons or daughters. I have been there. I have had fathers crying in my office over issues such as this. There was one particular case where a father's son was run over. The culprit got out of his car. The child had been eating an ice cream cone and the ice cream cone was splattered on the windshield of the car that hit him. The driver got out; he was drunk. He looked at the young boy on the pavement. He then got back in his car and ran over him again.

Tell me, is that a reasonable course of action? If the answer is no, and it should be no, then the person that is responsible should pay a price and not, as we have seen in the headlines in this country, receive a slap on the wrist or house arrest. There must be a minimum sentence brought into this picture. It has been far too long that we have not addressed this matter in the House including many other cases of drunk driving.

I beg to differ with the comments of my colleague from the Bloc that drunk driving numbers are down. If the statistics are recorded as being down, I will tell the House why they are down. It is because police departments across this country do not have the resources to put these programs forward.

The challenges in the courts for entrapment and all other charter arguments are outrageous. They are causing police departments to withdraw. It takes a great deal of effort and resource to reconstruct a hit and run accident. Bill C-275 also deals with the issue of plea bargaining on hit and run charges and it seeks to eliminate it.

We could not ask for a better bill to deal with all of the backroom negotiations that take place in a courtroom. I ask my colleagues on both sides of this House to support this bill. We owe it to Canadians to do everything possible to ensure that those who flee the scene of an accident will receive just punishment.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 16th, 2005 / 3:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Randy White Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition to submit to the House today from people in my riding. The petitioners ask government assembled in Parliament to vote in favour of Bill C-275, an act to amend the Criminal Code, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, to make sentencing for hit and run offenders more severe.

The petitioners are concerned about hit and run. Carley's law will make a better change.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 10th, 2005 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Randy White Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, finally, I have many petitioners with regard to Bill C-275, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding failure to stop at the scene of an accident, which is known commonly as Carley's Law hit-and-run. These petitioners again ask that parliament continue to support that legislation.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 10th, 2005 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Randy White Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have numerous petitions.

I have two petitions in which the petitioners ask the government assembled in Parliament to vote in favour of Bill C-275, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding failure to stop at the scene of an accident, which would make sentencing for hit-and-run drivers more severe.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 8th, 2005 / 6:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me begin my remarks by saying a few words of tribute to the hon. member for Abbotsford. He and I have crossed paths, swords and probably a number of other metal objects throughout the years. He was the House leader for his party when I was the House leader for mine some years ago. We inherited along with others the pizza Parliament as it was known in 1997 and we sat down to rewrite a number of the rules to make this place work.

As things would have it today, the media informs us that the hon. member will not be seeking a mandate in the next Parliament. Hopefully he will at least remain with us until the end of this Parliament. I hope that it is at least a reasonably long one in that regard both for him and for me. Of course I intend to run again but in his case, we want to have him around a little longer.

I thought that I would seize this moment that has been given to me to speak to offer these words of tribute to our colleague, a very distinguished member of Parliament for his province and indeed for the entire country. Hats off to the hon. member for Abbotsford. I sincerely hope that over the next year or two or possibly three that could be left in the life of this Parliament we will have an opportunity to work together again. I offer him these regards on behalf of my wife, MaryAnn, and I. We both have gotten to know him very well over the last several years. I ask him to convey our regards to his family as well.

Today, we are debating Bill C-275, which was introduced by the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George. This bill is a reincarnation of former Bill C-453 introduced in the last session of the previous Parliament by the hon. member for Abbotsford, who just spoke.

The purpose of Bill C-275 is to increase penalties for failing to stop at the scene of an accident in which death or serious bodily harm has occurred. It is also designed to make it considerably easier for the crown to get a conviction when death or bodily harm has been caused.

While I certainly do not condone leaving the scene of an accident to escape responsibility, I do have serious concerns about Bill C-275. I can see that the Minister of Justice shares my concerns.

Whether we like it or not, any concept of minimum sentences often has a perverse effect in matters of justice. Whether we admit it or not, this perverse effect is often that, if the judge is convinced that the minimum sentence is greater than the one he had in mind, he has no other choice but to acquit an individual who would otherwise have been declared guilty of the offence. The end result is that guilty people are exonerated, because the judge felt that the sentence was too stiff.

There is a serious problem when we impose minimum sentences. This does, of course, give the impression that a minimum sentence is better than no sentence. Perhaps that is right in principle, but when the sentence is longer than acceptable in the eyes of the judge having to reach a verdict, he has only one choice, to acquit someone who would otherwise have been found guilty.

With this bill, a driver who leaves the scene of an accident causing death is still subject to life imprisonment, as is the case at present. If the accident causes only bodily harm, the present 10-year maximum would also become life imprisonment.

Returning to what I said previously, if the judge finds this sentence excessive, unfortunately the person who would otherwise be found guilty will be acquitted.

I would like to point out that the maximum sentence for criminal negligence leading to death and impaired driving leading to death is life imprisonment, as it is for someone who leaves the scene of a fatal accident. The maximum for criminal negligence causing bodily harm and for impaired driving causing bodily harm, however, is 10 years.

Why would the maximum sentence for leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily harm have to be life imprisonment? Hon. members will see that a less serious offence would have the same penalty as an offence leading to death. Once again, I return to what I said previously: this would likely lead to some judges choosing to acquit someone who would otherwise have been found guilty.

Bill C-275 is intended to provide for tougher penalities by setting a minimum sentence for offenders guilty of not remaining at the scene of an accident causing death or bodily harm.

The gist of all this is that I do not question the merits of this bill, but I do feel that it would do far more harm than good for the reasons I have given, and for many others I would have given if there had been more time.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 8th, 2005 / 6:25 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise with a bit of trepidation to speak to Bill C-275. From the address we heard from the member for Cariboo--Prince George, it is quite clear how strongly he feels about the circumstances that have led him to present this private member's bill to the House.

I have a great deal of sympathy for him and for the family of the victim who was killed in this incident, which prompted this legislation to come forward. It is somewhat difficult, recognizing those circumstances, to have to stand here and say that the members of the NDP, like the Liberals and the Bloc members, are unable to support this legislation.

If we take a quick look at the legislation, we will see that it sets out a number of provisions we have difficulty with. In effect it provides for the removal of criminal intent to charges that deal with individuals who have left the scene. It sets mandatory minimum sentences in a variety of ways. Finally, it removes the discretion that prosecutors in this country have to negotiate appropriate sentences in exchange for a guilty plea.

In each one of those cases we have as a party on a number of occasions taken the position that we are not prepared to deviate from those fundamentals that in effect underlie our criminal justice system in this country. Again I recognize that it almost sounds crass to be talking about these fundamental rights when family members still grieve and still mourn the loss of a family member as a result of the conduct that we heard described by the member for Cariboo--Prince George.

When we are here as members of this House, as legislators for this country, we have the added responsibility of taking into account not only those facts and trying to deal with them as best we can, but also the facts in a number of other cases and in fact all of the cases that will eventually come before our courts when one is being faced with these types of charges, specifically, leaving the scene of an accident with the intent to escape criminal or civil liability.

One could pose a number of questions. Why is this being done in this particular section of the Criminal Code? Why not others that are also very severe? There are numerous answers to that question. One is that in fact these principles underlie to a great degree the development of our criminal justice system over a period of hundreds of years.

I want to address specifically the issue of removing the concept of criminal intent. We can come up with any number of scenarios whereby the person either negligently or with criminal intent, or maybe without either, that is, completely innocently, leaves the scene of an accident, perhaps because the person is not aware that there has been an injury. Perhaps the person is going to seek help. We have in these sections the necessity of criminal intent so that individuals in those cases would not be faced with minimum time in jail as they would under this bill. That is a mandatory minimum, which in this case runs from four or five to seven years depending on the section that is being applied.

Let me talk about what we have determined over the passage of time. It is not a perfect system. Again I think the family will probably not accept that, but it is not a perfect system. In this case, from their perspective, and I do not know the facts well enough to be able to say I agree with them, the criminal justice system has failed them. But we know that day in and day out the system we have built generally works. It actually works much better than any other system that I am aware of in the world, but it is not perfect.

The replacement of mandatory minimum sentences, taking away the discretion of judges to make those determinations, and the removal of criminal intent would, I believe, create a worse system than the one we have now, a worse system than that found in a number of other countries. We need to retain these.

More specifically and with regard to the issue of minimum sentences, I have spoken out on this issue on a number of occasions. The member for Cariboo--Prince George mentioned the fact that there are minimum sentences in our Criminal Code. In fact, we are up to 29 now. For a number of them, quite frankly, I would be opposed to having them in there.

However, there are some that have worked. There are times when minimum sentences do work. I believe they are the exception to the general rule, but there are times when they do work. For instance, some of the minimum sentences that we have imposed in impaired driving cases, which are much less severe than what is being proposed here, have worked. However, I think it worked primarily because it was coupled with a very strong public education program that got a positive reaction from the community. I think this is somewhat of an exception.

The automotive club here in Canada came out with a study last week which showed that a further extension of minimum sentences in impaired driving situations would no longer work. They have been effective up to this point, but expanding them would not in fact produce any additional prohibitions or prevent crimes of that nature.

The other point with regard to minimum sentences that I tend to press upon is the fact that such severe minimum sentences as those being proposed in the bill would result in a substantial increase in the number of trials that would have to be conducted. Individuals who might have been willing to plead guilty and avoid the trial and avoid putting the family through the trial would plead innocent in an attempt to have the charges dismissed. They would seek an acquittal. That would happen in a good number of cases. That certainly is not in the interests of grieving families or the victims of the crime, but it is a reality.

A number of states in the U.S. have moved quite extensively to the use of minimum sentences. This has resulted in a substantial increase in not guilty pleas. Inevitably when that happens the more trials there are and the more acquittals there are as opposed to getting guilty pleas in advance.

There is another point I want to make and again I am not sure that this will be of much solace to the families. In the early 1990s in the province of Ontario, and across the country, quite frankly, significant backlogs resulted in the withdrawal or dismissal of over 50,000 criminal charges in Ontario alone.

If we do not to some degree take a practical bent on this, which includes the right of our Crown prosecutors to be able to negotiate guilty pleas for appropriate sentences, if we do not keep that system in place, we are going to be faced with another backlog and the potential of a huge number of charges being dismissed because the Charter of Rights says that people are entitled to a trial in a reasonable period of time.

For all of those reasons, and as much as we sympathize with the member for Cariboo--Prince George, we have to oppose Bill C-275.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 8th, 2005 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to rise in this debate on Bill C-275.

I too would like to preface my remarks by saying that in no way does my position and that of my party mean that we condone implicitly or explicitly the criminal behaviour of individuals who leave the scene of a car accident. Such behaviour is unacceptable and reprehensible, and it should be severely punished.

On November 15, 2004, the bill entitled an act the amend the Criminal Code (failure to stop at scene of accident) was introduced by the Conservative member for Cariboo—Prince George, who spoke earlier. The bill was put on the priority list on the same day. This was the third time that this bill was introduced, because the same enactment had been introduced in the second and third sessions of the 37th Parliament by the Conservative member for Abbotsford over there, as Bill C-453, which never made it past the first reading stage.

I would like to read at this time the summary of the bill. It reads as follows:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to provide that an accused who has control of a vehicle, vessel or aircraft and who fails to stop at the scene of an accident is guilty of an offence for which the minimum punishment is seven years’ imprisonment and the maximum is life imprisonment, if another person suffers bodily harm and dies as a result of the accident.

If another person suffers bodily harm but does not die as a result of the accident, the accused who fails to stop at the scene of the accident is guilty of an offence for which the minimum punishment is four years’ imprisonment and the maximum is life imprisonment.

These provisions apply whether or not the person knew that another person had suffered bodily harm or had died as a result of the accident, and whether or not the person had the intent to escape civil or criminal liability.

And finally:

A prosecutor may not make, to an accused charged with leaving the scene of an accident, an offer allowing the accused to plead guilty instead to an offence with a lesser penalty.

Let us analyze this. Bodily harm is defined in the Criminal Code as meaning any hurt or injury to a person that interferes with the health or comfort of the person and that is more than merely transient or trifling in nature.

If the victim dies as a result of bodily harm, what recourse is allowed under the current legislation? Currently, under the code, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment ,and there is no minimum sentence for a person who fails to stop his vehicle that is involved in an accident,with intent to escape civil or criminal liability, and that “person knows that another person involved in the accident is dead” or that “person knows that bodily harm has been caused to another person and is reckless as to whether the death of the other person results from that bodily harm, and the death of that other person so results”.

The intent to escape civil or criminal liability is presumed once it has been proven that the person failed to stop their vehicle.

Bill C-275 proposes adding a minimum sentence of seven years' imprisonment and eliminates the requirement regarding the intent of the accused, meaning that, if the bill is adopted, it would no longer be necessary to demonstrate that the accused knew the victim would die from his injuries or was reckless in spite of that knowledge.

What does the legislation say if that victim suffers bodily harm but does not die? Subsection 252(1.2) of the Criminal Code provides for a maximum sentence of 10 years for an accused who failed to stop his vehicle involved in an accident with the intent to escape all civil and criminal liability, knowing that bodily harm has been caused to another person involved in the accident. Here, the code makes no mention of presumption. The crown must, therefore, first prove the intent of the accused to escape his criminal liability and prove that the accused knew the victim had suffered bodily harm.

Bill C-275 proposes the addition of a minimum penalty of four years’ imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment if another person suffers bodily harm but does not die as a result of the accident. The crown would no longer have to prove the intent of the accused to escape his criminal liability nor that the accused knew the victim had suffered bodily harm.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the provisions currently set out in the Criminal Code are reasonable. We consider it dangerous to eliminate, with regard to this offence, the need to prove the intent to escape criminal liability.

We believe the current system is adequate in that it facilitates the work of the Crown by presuming that the accused had the intent to evade criminal responsibility, because he did not remain. The presumption is, in our opinion, reasonable, since it affords the accused an opportunity to present evidence that he did not intend to evade responsibility and that he left the scene for other reasons.

In fact, taking the accused's intent into account makes it possible to take special circumstances into account, thus reducing the risk of injustice. We must not forget that in the case at hand, a person risks losing his freedom for a number of years. Removing the criteria of intent to evade responsibility may make the crown prosecutors' task easier, but at the same time, once it is proven that the person left the scene, it removes the judge's discretion to decide, in a particular case before the court, whether the accused person should be found guilty.

Moreover, the Bloc Québécois also thinks that the minimum sentences proposed in Bill C-275 are exaggerated and out of proportion. The Bloc Québécois is not opposed to minimum sentences in principle: we have proposed them in Bill C-303 for persons convicted of sexual crimes against minors. Still, we feel that minimum sentences should be used with caution because, in the end, they tie judges' hands and too often complicate their task.

Sometimes minimum sentences can also have a perverse effect. That is, when a judge thinks a minimum sentence is inappropriate in a particular case, he might prefer to find a person not guilty even though that individual might have deserved a prison term of a few months.

The position of the Bloc Québécois on Bill C-275 can be summed up simply: the Bloc believes that the judge is in the best position to analyze the individual's reasons for leaving the scene and determine the appropriate sentence. Consequently, Bloc Québécois members will be asked to vote against Bill C-275, while maintaining that leaving the scene of an accident should and must be severely punished. Nevertheless, we believe that the current provisions in the code are sufficient to achieve this goal and objective of our society.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 8th, 2005 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Northumberland—Quinte West Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Justice is not supporting Bill C-275, nor am I. In opposing the bill, I want to tell the member opposite that I simply do not agree with him that Bill C-275 is in the category of an ultimate solution to the member's concerns.

Parliament has created in section 252 of the Criminal Code the offence of failing to stop at the scene of an accident with the intent to escape civil or criminal liability. Let me be very clear. I fully support the existing provisions in section 252 of the Criminal Code that are aimed against the pernicious behaviour of leaving the scene of an accident in order to escape liability.

In no way does my opposition to Bill C-275 mean that I condone leaving the scene of an accident to escape civil or criminal liability. The present maximum penalty under section 252 for leaving the scene of an accident is five years imprisonment where the prosecution proceeds by indictment. I note that the procedure for the indictable offence is a more serious procedure than the procedure for a summary conviction offence.

Bill C-275 does not propose to change this maximum penalty of five years. At present, in a case where the fleeing offender knows that a person has died or knows that there is bodily harm and is reckless about whether death ensues and death does occur, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment under the Criminal Code.

Bill C-275 does not propose to change this. I note that life imprisonment is equal to the maximum penalty for manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, dangerous driving during a police chase causing death, and impaired driving causing death.

In a case where a fleeing offender knows that there is bodily harm, the current maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment. This maximum penalty is equal to the maximum penalty for criminal negligence causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, and impaired driving causing bodily harm. Inexplicably, Bill C-275 proposes a new maximum penalty of life imprisonment for the bodily harm situation which equals the maximum penalty for leaving the scene where there is a death.

Not only does this defy the principle that there should be proportionality in the criminal penalties with respect to the harm, this proposal in Bill C-275 would make the maximum penalty for the bodily harm in leaving the scene situation completely at odds with the maximum penalty that Parliament has set for each of the other Criminal Code bodily harm offences that I have just named.

Further, the bill proposes to create a minimum penalty of seven years imprisonment for the offence of leaving the scene of an accident where death is involved, and a minimum penalty of four years imprisonment where bodily harm is involved. I note that the similar offences which I have already mentioned do not carry these seven and four year minimum penalties.

As much as I am concerned about the maximum penalty provision for leaving the scene of an accident in a bodily harm situation and the bill's minimum penalty provisions, Bill C-275 contains an even more alarming proposal. This is the provision that would eliminate the mental element of the offence of leaving the scene of an accident in those cases that are the most serious forms of the offence, namely situations where death and bodily harm results.

Each criminal offence must contain in its definition not only an act, but also a mental element, sometimes referred to as a guilty mind in English or mens rea in Latin. The mental element can be framed in the terms of intention, knowledge or wilfulness. Outside the criminal law we may find offences for which there is liability based only on an act without any mental element, for example, in some regulatory matters.

However, I emphasize again that in criminal matters, an offence must not only have an act, but also a mental element. The more serious the offence and the resulting penalty, the more important it is that the offence contains a mental element.

Bill C-275 turns this fundamental principle of criminal justice upside down. In Bill C-275, the proposal is not to retain the mental element for leaving the scene where there is no injury or death but to eliminate it completely from the more serious cases of resulting injury or death.

I find it absolutely astonishing that the bill proposes that where there is a more serious act and a more serious penalty, there would be no mental element in the definition of the offence. This is beyond belief. One expects to find a mental element and not the complete elimination of the mental element for any criminal offence, let alone the more serious criminal offence.

It is highly likely that if such legislation were enacted by Parliament in the face of all logic, that courts would find that the combination of the disproportionate minimum penalties and the elimination of the mental element would violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is an integral part of the Canadian Constitution.

I remind members that the Constitution is the supreme law against which all other laws must be tested. As parliamentarians we must keep in mind that legislative proposals must respect the charter, including its guarantee that no one be deprived of liberty, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

In my view, it is extremely important to have the offences and penalties that now exist for drivers who leave the scene of an accident with the intent to escape civil or criminal liability, especially where someone is killed or injured.

To the extent that the particular convicted offender will be deterred from repeating the behaviour and to the extent that there will be a general deterrence for others who in the future might contemplate such behaviour, the existing Criminal Code provisions are necessary and appropriate in the context of the charter.

We often hear the claim that the charter protects the wrongdoer. Such rhetoric misses the point. The criminal law is society's strongest sanction against improper and injurious behaviour. Therefore, fundamental principles such as the need for the mental element for a criminal offence protect each of us who might without a guilty mind do something purely accidentally. Without the requirement of a mental element for a criminal offence, the pure accident would be criminalized.

Think for a moment of a driver who leaves the scene of an accident with the intent to get help for an injured person. If the offence is simply leaving and there is no requirement of the mental element of intending to escape liability, the driver who leaves the scene to get help would be committing a criminal offence under the proposed Bill C-275.

Keep in mind that such a person who left the scene under Bill C-275 would be convicted and given a seven year minimum period of imprisonment if an injured person died. The court would not have the discretion to hand down a lesser sentence, no matter how favourable the reason for leaving was or how favourable the personal circumstances of the offender were.

Bill C-275 has the aim of reducing situations where someone leaves the scene of an accident where there is death or bodily harm. However, it is so contrary to the important principles of fundamental justice that it would be cynical to pass Bill C-275 knowing that it will most likely run afoul of the charter.

If members truly believe that fundamental principles of justice are unimportant, then there should be a constitutional amendment to the charter, the fundamental law against which all other laws are tested and not an end run that attacks these fundamental principles by means of an amendment to the Criminal Code.

I am sure that all of us in this House are highly sympathetic to the victims who have been injured and to the surviving family members of victims who have died in accidents where the driver fled from the scene with intent to avoid criminal or civil liability. Such an offender's behaviour is despicable.

Our reaction is to want to do something so that the behaviour will not be repeated by that offender or any other driver. The proposals in Bill C-275 are not that something. The bill simply does not respect the fundamental criminal law principles nor the protection afforded by the charter. Bill C-275 accordingly must be opposed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 8th, 2005 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

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.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

November 15th, 2004 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-275, an act to amend the Criminal Code (failure to stop at scene of accident).

Mr. Speaker, this bill is a result of an incident on January 6, 2003, when 13-year-old Carley Regan lost her life at the hands of a driver who failed to stop his truck after he hit her with the vehicle. The driver received a sentence of 18 months in prison which was reduced to 14 months to time served. He was later released after serving only 10 months of his sentence.

Rarely, if ever, do perpetrators of hit and run causing bodily harm or death receive more than two years in prison, but the families who lost loved ones suffer for the rest of their lives. This is not acceptable to these victims and their families.

Therefore, my bill would eliminate plea bargaining for hit and run charges, it would introduce a minimum sentence and it would equate hit and run causing death to murder and hit and run causing injury to manslaughter.

My colleague, the hon. member for Abbotsford, has been very active on this issue for a number of years and is co-sponsoring this bill.

We ask that Parliament would seriously consider supporting victims of hit and run by voting in favour of the bill, which we are calling Carley's law. A message needs to be sent that it is unacceptable to evade responsibilities by failing to stop at the scene of an accident.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)