moved that Bill C-590, an act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in the House again to put forward a private member's bill which I think would make Canada a safer place and our roads definitely safer to drive our vehicles on.
The first thing I would like to do is thank the Minister of Justice and his staff for their assistance. I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for all his assistance. I would also like to thank the staff at the Library of Parliament for helping me draft this piece of legislation.
I also want to be very clear at the start that I am very open-minded on this piece of legislation. It is something that I am willing to amend and see amendments made to, to make it a better piece of legislation. This is something that the House can embrace, that committee can embrace, to actually accomplish the goal of making this a strong piece of legislation that would save Canadian lives.
I think everybody in this House is aware of someone who has passed away in a traffic accident or a motor vehicle accident where alcohol was involved. I think we all understand the implications of how devastating that can be to families, employers, employees, and friends.
The story I would like to talk about right now is about a colleague and a friend, a businessman in Prince Albert by the name of Ben Darchuk.
Ben ran Ben's Auto Glass. He had been in our community for a long time. He was 53 years old on May 20, 2012, when he was driving up to the lake to meet up with his family. He was hit head on by a drunk driver. The driver was definitely over the legal limit and beyond. He had admitted to consuming cocaine earlier on in the day. The results were devastating not only to Ben, but to his entire family, friends, and employees.
Prince Albert lost a pillar that day. It was the Victoria Day long weekend, a time when people go camping for the first time in the summer. Ben was going to take his boat on the lake and enjoy it. His wife and kids were up at the lake. He was nine kilometres north of Prince Albert driving to the lake when the accident happened.
His family is devastated. His wife Leanne is devastated. His three children do not have a father. His employees at Ben's Auto Glass do not have a boss. The turmoil of going through that loss and the turmoil of the insecurity of the business, with his colleagues and his employees not being sure where they were going to be was just devastating.
This is a guy who was very active in the Kinsmen Club. He was responsible for bringing 9-1-1 into Prince Albert, or assisted in that. He was very proud of his Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian dancing. We would see him at different dances and events. He was active in the community. He was 53 years old. He was hit by a drunk driver and he passed on.
It is really sad when we hear of cases like Ben's. I think everybody, as I said earlier, can relate to that because I think we all know of somebody, a friend, a colleague, or a family member, who has been involved in a situation like that.
We need to look at what we can do to ensure that drinking and driving is not acceptable and is not something that someone should even consider. I use the saying, “if in doubt, don't drive”.
What I am trying to tackle here is the fact that some people are way too intoxicated to be driving. These people who are far too intoxicated to be driving are getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and by doing that, they are actually putting a lot of innocent people at risk.
I will go through the details of my bill. Then I will wrap up with some of the comments I heard when talking to some of the families. I would also like to thank the families for sharing their stories with me, because that gives the emotional push we need to put something like this forward.
Bill C-590 is an act to amend section 255 of the Criminal Code to establish more severe penalties for offenders who have a blood alcohol content that exceeds twice the legal limit. Let us clarify that. It is twice the legal limit. If someone has a blood alcohol content of .16, those are the people we are targeting here.
Such offenders would be liable for imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years. Penalties for a first-offence conviction would now result in a minimum fine of $2,000 and a minimum 60-day prison term. In the case of a second or subsequent offence, the minimum imprisonment would be 240 days.
Those with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit who harm or kill someone would be additionally penalized a maximum fine of $5,000 and a minimum of 120 days in prison for the first offence, and a minimum of 12 months in prison for the second or subsequent offence.
According to Statistics Canada, and these are really sobering statistics, almost half the fatal or injured drivers had a blood alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit. In half the fatalities the drivers that were involved had twice the legal limit of blood alcohol content. These are the people we need to get off the road.
It is also a fact that this impairment has a devastating impact on our youth, as 31% of deaths among our kids the alcohol-related. It is not an acceptable number.
Both these numbers are preventable, yet they are there and it is something that is still ongoing.
In June of 2009, a report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on alcohol use among fatally injured drivers indicates that most of the impaired driving problems lie with drivers having a blood alcohol content over the current Criminal Code BAC limit of 0.08.
Among the tested drivers in Canada, 62.9% showed no evidence of alcohol in their blood. That is a good thing. That number should be 100%, but 63% is not a bad thing.
There were 37.1% who had been drinking. Out of those who had been drinking, 4.3% had a blood alcohol content of less than 0.05, 2.6% had a blood alcohol content of 0.05 to 0.08, 9.5% had a blood alcohol content of 0.081 to 0.16, and 20.8% had a blood alcohol content of over 0.16. In other words, 81.5% of the fatally injured drinking drivers had a blood alcohol content over the current limit of 0.08 to 0.16.
This tells members exactly what I am trying to do with this piece of legislation, why I am targeting the folks who are at twice the legal limit, and why we need to make sure that these people are off the roads. When people are at twice the legal limit, at that level of consumption it is obvious not only to those people but to their friends and colleagues around them that they are three sheets to the wind and should not be operating a vehicle or a crane or engaging in any type of activity like that.
Drivers with a high blood alcohol content are behind the wheel of 1% of the cars on the road at night and on weekends, but they account for nearly half of all the drivers killed at those times.
Limited resources would seem to best be deployed to target that 81.5% of the fatally-injured drinking drivers who are already above the 0.08 threshold. The worst offenders are already driving with a blood alcohol content that is two or three times the current limit. Drivers with the highest blood alcohol content constitute the most significant danger on the roads, as they should still be a priority.
The report states:
Section 255.1 of the Criminal Code states that if an impaired driving offence is committed by someone whose BAC exceeded 0.16 at the time the offence was committed, this will be an aggravating factor on sentencing. This reflects the fact that driving with a high level of impairment (over 0.16 BAC or double the current legal limit) is generally indicative of serious problems.
Even if a driver with this level of impairment is being detected for the first time, it is likely that this is a hard-core impaired driver. This is due to the fact that it is rarely the first time they have driven while impaired by alcohol — it is simply the first time they have been arrested for it.
In my home province of Saskatchewan, we have nothing to be proud about when it comes to drunk drivers. In fact, we are seeing an increase in police reports of impaired driving incidents for each consecutive year from 2006 to 2011, according to Statistics Canada.
Furthermore, in 2011, among all the provinces Saskatchewan had the highest number of such police-reported impaired driving incidents, with almost 700 per 100,000 people. In other words, over the course of five years, the number of police-reported incidents increased from 500 to 700 per 100,000. The trend was going the wrong way. That trend needs to change.
Bill C-590 targets drivers with high blood alcohol contents by increasing specific penalties for such drivers. The goal is to prevent these drivers from reoffending, since high-risk offenders cause the greatest number of fatal collisions and are more likely to be repeat offenders.
I understand this piece of legislation is not the be-all and end-all. It will not solve drinking and driving. What it does do is provide a tool for those who are educating our kids to explain to them how serious it is. It allows our educators to go to our kids and say, “Drinking and driving is not only unacceptable; there are also serious consequences to you if you drink and drive. It is even more serious if you drink and drive and you are severely drunk”.
It also lays out the facts of what can happen, not just the fatalities that are created by being over the legal limit but the fatalities that are created when someone is at twice the legal limit and the impact that has. If we think about it, 50% of fatalities on the roads involve somebody who is at twice the legal limit.
The other thing I would like to highlight for the House is that I am very open to amendments. I am very open to seeing this legislation being created and drafted in such a way that we can all get along, take pride, and bring it forward. To use an analogy for what I have done here, I have taken a piece of clay, just as a potter takes a piece of clay, and I have started to shape it. I have tried to give it a vision. However, I expect the House, through the committees, to help define what this is going to look like. I expect the House and the committees to come forward with suggestions, and I look forward to them as we try to make the bill better. Our end goal here is to see fewer fatalities on the highway and to make sure the roads that our kids, our parents, and our family members drive down are safe.
It is not just roads. I want to make that very clear. It is a motor vehicle. It could be a boat. In fact, in talking to colleagues today, I heard a suggestion that we should also be looking at the workplace. If someone is over 0.08 or at twice the legal limit, should they be operating a crane? Should they be operating a piece of heavy machinery, especially if there are others around who could be severely injured if they happen not to proceed in a safe manner because they are over that limit?
There are a lot of things to think about in this legislation, and I want to shine a light on that because I want people to understand that drinking and driving is not acceptable. If someone is at twice the legal limit and they think that is okay and get behind the wheel, there have to be severe penalties.
When I talked to the people at MADD about the bill, they had some disappointments with it, which I can understand. They wanted it to be even more severe. They feel we should have higher penalties and that the minimum should be bigger. I am willing to look at those amendments, but I trust the committee will actually talk to different witnesses and decide the best way to move forward.
One thing we have to do is talk to the victims. We have to understand what the victims go through and how that impacts the families, the friends, and the communities around them. We have stories in the past in some of our smaller towns in Prince Albert. Some teenagers were out on a Friday night, drinking and driving. They know it is not acceptable, but it still happens. Then all of a sudden we are having a funeral in the school gym. What a loss of life. How sad.
One thing we must really ensure is that we have the proper education in place so that these kids understand the implications of drinking and driving and do not repeat it.
In closing, I will mention that Ben Darchuk had a saying: “If there's a will, there's a way”. That was his attitude when he was around Prince Albert. If we wanted to get something done, he would always say, “If there's a will, there's a way”. I understand that was his motto. With this piece of legislation, if there is a will with the House, if there is a will with the committee, if we are all willing to work together with the same goal, then there is a way to get this measure through, and we will have a better community because of it.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this time to present my bill. I would like to thank my colleagues for their support. I would like to thank all the members for considering this piece of legislation. As we move forward with debate here tonight, I look forward to the positive suggestions and ideas that can come forward to make this an even better piece of legislation.