moved that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to lead off the debate on this important government initiative, Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Canadians want a law-abiding peaceful society. They believe in secure streets and neighbourhoods where children can play in safety and where families can go for evening walks. In doing our part to protect our communities, roads and highways, the Government of Canada is taking the issue of street racing head-on.
There have been far too many examples of Canadians being injured or killed because of street racing. On a regular basis there are reports of deaths across the country relating to this dangerous activity. We have seen horrific deaths recently in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg. These risks, injuries and deaths are senseless and do not need to occur.
The criminal law seeks justice, the protection of the public and the establishment and maintenance of social order. Ultimately the purpose of the criminal law is to contribute to a just, peaceful and safe society through the establishment of prohibitions, sanctions and procedures to deal fairly and appropriately with blameworthy conduct that causes or threatens serious harm to individuals and society. Street racers must be explicitly subject to such sanctions and prohibitions.
The criminal law can be, and in this case should be, a tool for shifting public perception. In this regard the message needs to be made clear: street racing is not a game, it is not carefree and it is not harmless. Pure and simple, it kills.
In establishing such a system we must first examine the existing legal scheme on which Bill C-19 would build, namely the way the Criminal Code currently deals with street racing.
The Criminal Codes does not specifically identify street racing as an offence, although certain of the code's offences can apply to fatal and injurious collisions where street racing is involved. These offences are: criminal negligence causing death, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment; dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, which currently carries a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment; criminal negligence causing bodily harm, with a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment; and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm, with a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment. In addition, the offence of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, with a five year maximum imprisonment on indictment, can be applied in cases where a street race has occurred but no one was killed or injured.
In addition, under the Criminal Code, if convicted of any of those five offences, currently the court may order a period of driving prohibition of up to three years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, of up to 10 years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm or death, and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. In the case of criminal negligence causing death, the court may order up to a lifetime driving prohibition.
Despite these existing provisions and the discretionary driving prohibition orders, street races are still occurring and Canadians are still being injured, and tragically, killed.
For this reason the government is doing its part in reinforcing the criminal law in this area and sending a strong clear message that street racing is a crime with real and significant consequences. Creating a separate offence in the Criminal Code will specifically denounce this form of crime. In addition, these proposed amendments permit increased punishments with regard to minimum driving prohibitions and increase periods of imprisonment in street racing situations.
Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act proposes the creation of a specific street racing offence in the Criminal Code based on the offences of dangerous driving, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and criminal negligence causing death. The bill proposes key reforms that would increase, in street racing situations, the maximum punishments for dangerous driving causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm from 10 years to 14 years, and for dangerous driving causing death from 14 years to life.
The government is taking a holistic approach to criminal law reform. In this regard, it is significant to note that the government's conditional sentencing bill, Bill C-9, if passed as is, will eliminate the use of a conditional sentence in those street racing cases where someone is either injured or killed. As we know, conditional sentences are essentially house arrest.
The street racing reforms would also provide minimum driving prohibitions that would increase on each subsequent offence, instead of the present discretionary prohibitions. In particular, the mandatory driving prohibitions range from a minimum of one year on a first offence, all the way up to a maximum of a lifetime driving ban. The minimum driving prohibitions increase to two and three years for subsequent offences.
Of note is the proposed mandatory lifetime driving prohibition. This mandatory lifetime minimum driving prohibition will apply if an offender has two convictions, where someone is injured or killed as a result of street racing, and at least one of these offences causes a death. For example, if someone is convicted of dangerous driving causing bodily harm while street racing and then convicted of criminal negligence causing death while street racing, the lifetime mandatory driving prohibition will apply.
Therefore, Bill C-19 would provide judges with discretion in setting the appropriate length of prohibition, in some cases, all the way up to a lifetime ban, but in every street racing offence, the offender would have a period of mandatory driving prohibition.
Following the introduction of Bill C-19, some have asked, What is street racing and how will the courts interpret such a definition? Clause 1 of the bill defines “street racing” as:
--operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place;
The term “race” is an undefined term in the bill and is therefore meant to be applied by the courts, based on existing common law principles, after an examination of the trial evidence. The courts will turn to context in which the term is used, dictionary definitions of a race, as well as Canadian jurisprudence defining this term. At the end of the day, all sources of interpretation generally point to the common theme of a race amounting to a contest of speed, which will be determined on a case by case basis on the evidence presented at trial.
By the structure of the proposed reforms, the prosecution will be required to prove a race; that is a contest of speed plus dangerous driving or criminal negligence. This construction responds to fear that revving one's engine would amount to an offence. The driving must also meet the existing standards of dangerous driving or criminal negligence in order to attract criminal liability.
Furthermore, by the design of the scheme, if the court is not satisfied that a street race was involved, then the law of included offences would apply. Therefore, if the prosecution has not proven a street race but has proven all the essential elements of either dangerous driving or criminal negligence, then the offender may be convicted of these included offences.
It is important to note that the Criminal Code contains an offence, at section 259, prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle while a person is disqualified from driving. This driving while prohibited offence would also apply if a person drives during the prohibition period imposed for the offences in Bill C-19.
Many provinces have used provincial highway traffic legislation to combat street racing, including provincial fines, licence suspensions and vehicle impoundment. In British Columbia, for example, the province introduced legislation that gave the police the authority to impound, immediately, any vehicle used in a street race. In some matters, there can be federal and provincial constitutional authority, and each level of government may properly enact legislation. In the matter of street racing the provincial legislature has constitutional legislative authority to enact highway traffic and driver licensing legislation against street racing. Parliament may enact legislation against street racing, using its constitutional legislative authority for criminal law.
There have been a number of earlier bills directed at combatting street racing. During the 37th Parliament, the late Mr. Chuck Cadman, M.P., introduced private member's Bill C-338 and reintroduced it as Bill C-230 in the 38th Parliament aimed at this form of crime. These bills provided that the existence of street racing was to be an aggravating factor in sentencing and provided for mandatory minimum driving prohibitions, increasing on second and subsequent offences. I think the Prime Minister said it very when he described Mr. Cadman as “a selfless man who devoted his years in Ottawa to fighting for safer streets”.
Mr. Cadman's bill was built upon the existence of a repeat aggravating factor. However, the dependence on the aggravating factor in the sentencing hearing that involves a prior conviction, in order to trigger an increased penalty for a subsequent offence, raised some concerns. First, there is no reference to street racing in the substantive offence. Second, the CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre, does not report the existence of aggravating factors. Therefore, the Crown would have no consistent way of knowing that a prior offence had involved street racing.
In the 38th Parliament, the previous government introduced Bill C-65, an act to amend the Criminal Code, street racing. It also provided that street racing, if found by the sentencing judge to be present, was to be used as an aggravating factor in sentencing and included mandatory driving prohibitions, although repeat offenders were not subject to increasing driving prohibitions. All these bills eventually died on the order paper. However, given the efforts made by Mr. Cadman and by the former government's response, we are now counting on everyone to support Bill C-19.
The government's bill, Bill C-19, unlike its predecessors, proposes the creation of separate offences and would increase driving prohibitions for repeat offenders. I believe these are necessary components to deliver the message that street racing threatens the safety of Canadians and criminal law consequences, therefore, will be serious.
The frequency of and the conviction rate for offences involving street racing are presently not available at a national level as there is, currently, no systematic way to identify the cases that have involved street racing. One of the indirect benefits of the reforms proposed in C-19 is that the creation of separate offences will allow such data to be captured and monitored in a systematic national way.
As I have noted, in some matters, and street racing is one such matter, there can be federal and provincial constitutional authority and each level of government may properly enact legislation. The provincial legislature has constitutional legislative authority to enact highway traffic and driver licensing legislation against street racing. Parliament may enact legislation against street racing under its constitutional authority for criminal law.
The complementary provincial and federal tools would provide a strong and effective response to the scourge of street racing on Canadian roads and street. I, therefore, compliment the efforts of local police forces in getting street racers off our streets on to closed race tracks. These efforts will no doubt contribute to public safety on Canadian roads and highways.
Safe streets and safe communities are a hallmark of life in Canada. The government is doing its part, through a number of important bills currently before Parliament, to ensure that this fact remains true. The government has made a clear and unequivocal commitment to work toward a safe and secure Canada. This Canada is one in which its citizens can walk the streets without fear of being struck by reckless street racers.
I conclusion, Bill C-19 is a targeted, measured and balanced response to the numerous tragic incidents of street racing occurring on our roads and highways. Although not in and of itself a panacea, this proposed reform will send a clear message that driving is a privilege and that street races are not acceptable. Bill C-19 would also ensure that those prosecuted for street racing would not be permitted to drive for a significant period of time.
I urge all hon. members to join me in support of Bill C-19 and to work together to put an end to this dangerous phenomena of street racing on Canadian roads and highways.