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.
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.