Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that this is the first time that I stand in this House as the opposition justice critic and I am very pleased to do so.
It gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
As I just said in French, this is my first speech as the official opposition's justice critic. I look forward to working with my colleagues, be they in my party or in other parties, to provide intelligent, smart solutions to all justice issues that come before this House.
In considering Bill C-32, we must look at its history in order to understand it. The history of Bill C-32 goes back quite a few years, in fact to May 1999 when the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released a report entitled “Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving”.
The committee then recognized that drugs were a contributing factor to some fatal motor vehicle accidents. It also emphasized the need to develop better measures to detect drug impaired driving and to obtain the proper evidence allowing for the successful prosecution of individuals who drove while under the influence of drugs.
A further study on this issue was the Senate special committee on illegal drugs report entitled “Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy”. One of its important findings was that there was no reliable, non-intrusive, rapid roadside test for drugs. In the case of cannabis, the best way to test is through blood samples. This then obviously represents a challenge that needs to be met in order to address the problem of drug impaired driving.
In response to the 1999 report, the Department of Justice and its working group on impaired driving consulted extensively with the provinces and territories. The results of these consultations was the October 2003 release of the report entitled “Drug-Impaired Driving: Consultation Document”. This document pointed out that many drug impaired drivers were not voluntarily participating in testing. It does stress the need to develop measures that would allow police to demand that drivers suspected of being impaired by drug use would submit to testing.
The report highlighted two options. The first option was to set a legal limit on the presence of drugs on the body. The second option was to propose legislation that would improve the ability of our law enforcement, our police officers, to demand drug tests. A certified officer could demand a physical sobriety test or take a saliva or sweat sample at the roadside based on the reasonable suspicion of drug impairment. Failure on such a test would then represent reasonable grounds to conduct a more detailed evaluation and, obviously, more intrusive evaluation at a police station. The bill that is before us, Bill C-32, follows in the steps of this second option.
The House of Commons special committee report on the non-medical use of drugs released in the fall of 2003 called for Parliament to develop a strategy addressing the question of drug impaired driving. In April 2004, our then Liberal government, and it is quite coincidental I am sure that the present government bill carries the same number, reintroduced Bill C-32. That bill would have dealt with the drug impaired driving in the fashion described above. Unfortunately, the bill died on the order paper in May 2004 when an election was called.
The Liberals were re-elected, albeit as a minority government, and in November 2004 reintroduced that same bill but as Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. That bill made its way to committee and was reported back to the House with some amendments. Unfortunately, that piece of legislation also died on the order paper when the election was called in November 2005.
Thus, the current minority Conservative government's Bill C-32 has followed in the footsteps taken by the previous Liberal government. The Conservatives, however, have chosen to reintroduce it with a few changes, namely, by incorporating stronger penalties than the Liberals' two previous bills had envisioned.
On the same topic, I noted that Canadian Press reported on the introduction of Bill C-2 with the following words. I am quoting from the November 22 wire which reads:
The federal Conservatives have brought in legislation to crack down on drug-impaired drivers--by resurrecting a plan first advanced by the Liberals, adding heavier fines and jail terms, and calling the result a Tory initiative.
I think that this description is accurate, and I can only commend the Tories for recognizing a great idea even when it was developed and first presented by another party, the Liberal Party when it was the government.
Now that we have discussed the background for the bill before us, we must examine the amendments it will make to the Criminal Code. The summary for Bill C-32 reads as follows:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code
(a) to create an offence of operating a motor vehicle while in possession of a controlled substance as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act;
(b) to authorize specially trained peace officers to conduct tests to determine whether a person is impaired by a drug or a combination of alcohol and a drug;
(c) to authorize the taking of bodily fluids to test for the presence of alcohol or a drug;
(d) to create an offence of operating a motor vehicle with a concentration of alcohol in the blood that exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood and causing bodily harm or death to another person;
(e) to clarify what evidence a person accused of driving with a concentration of alcohol in the blood that exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood can introduce to raise a doubt that they were not committing the offence;
(f) to create an offence of refusing to provide a breath sample when the accused knows or ought to know that the accused’s operation of a motor vehicle caused an accident resulting in bodily harm to another person or death; and
(g) to increase the penalties for impaired driving.
The enactment also makes consequential amendments to other Acts.
As the Liberal justice critic, I want to say that my party takes very seriously problems of impaired driving caused by alcohol and/or other drugs. In my opinion, the proof of this is that, when we formed the government, we twice introduced a bill amending the Criminal Code to deal with this problem.
I believe the proof is there. We take this issue very seriously and we also take very seriously measures that are smart and effective and that have a good chance and even an excellent chance of achieving the intended objectives. Moreover, we support initiatives to provide services responsible for maintaining public order with concrete and effective tools to implement legislation aimed at cracking down on impaired driving caused by alcohol or other drugs.
We are therefore prepared to support Bill C-32 so that it can make its way to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The committee could examine the bill in greater detail and summon witnesses and experts to give their own particular perspective. In addition, the committee could propose any amendments it deems necessary. However, I would like to say that we still have reservations about some aspects of this bill. We hope that the government will work constructively with all the opposition parties to address these reservations and that the most useful and most effective legislation will be adopted.
What concerns or reservations do we have about this bill?
Some hon. members have already voiced them.
The Canada Safety Council has already voiced some objections to roadside drug testing. It asks which type of drugs police would test for. Would it simply be illicit, illegal drugs, or would it also be drugs that are legal, in the sense that they are prescription drugs. The person could be in legal possession of those prescription drugs, but the effects of those drugs may cause impairment and it is clearly indicated, for instance, as part of the protocol for taking that drug.
How many of us have not come down with a bad cold or a bad infection, have been prescribed medication by our doctor and when we receive it at the pharmacy it clearly says on the label not to operate machinery or a moving vehicle while taking that medication.
The Canada Safety Council has concerns about what are the drugs that are going to be tested for and whether there will be the possibility of distinguishing between prescription drugs and illegal drugs. As well, how would we deal with the fact that there are certain drugs, like marijuana, which may linger in the body well after the initial high is over and well after the effects of impairment of one's abilities have completely dissipated but traces of the drug still remain?
The Canada Safety Council is asking these questions. How is this bill going to deal with these issues? These are questions that hopefully will be answered if this bill goes to committee.
As I said, as the Liberal critic I will be recommending to my colleagues to vote in favour to send it on to committee so that we can attempt to get answers to these questions and, if it is possible, to amend the bill. If we are given solid answers by experts who say that yes, we could do that and we could amend the legislation in such a way to ensure that it happened, then we would hope that we would get government cooperation in order to do so.
I had another question which was not answered by the parliamentary secretary during questions and comments. I asked whether or not studies had been done to determine in what percentage of cases where there has been death or injury caused by a motor vehicle and there is evidence of impairment--and let us just consider alcohol impairment--the Crown actually brought forth manslaughter charges, which includes the section of the Criminal Code that exists right now that deals with manslaughter and also includes death and injury caused by a vehicle, including impaired driving and provides for a maximum sentence of life.
I would like to know what scientific studies have been done to determine why it is that those provisions have not been used obviously sufficiently from what the parliamentary secretary said. He talked about people who are impaired causing carnage with their vehicles et cetera and that they are getting away with it because they are refusing to take the testing. Where are the problems? We have provisions right now but they appear not to be used. Why is that? What is the evidence that would show why they are not being used?
Finally, we know the government has announced that it will be placing $2 million to the benefit of our law enforcement in order to get the training and to do these roadside sobriety tests. How much money, if any, is the government planning to use to do a public education campaign?
History has shown that Canada-wide public education campaigns about impaired driving have been very well received by the public.
That is why today people have a designated driver when they spend an evening with friends or go to a party in a hall or restaurant where alcohol is served. Today, the vast majority of people resign themselves to drinking nothing. But if they do decide to drink, they have a designated driver.
Does the government plan to put money and people behind the idea of an education campaign on driving while under the influence not only of alcohol, but also drugs, for example? I would like to know. Perhaps the answers will come out during the committee hearings, if the House decides to refer this bill to committee.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to my colleagues in this House who are taking part in this debate. As I have already said, I recommend that my colleagues from all parties refer this bill to committee so that we can try to answer these questions and, if necessary, improve the bill.