An Act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Randy Hoback  Conservative

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

Status

Report stage (House), as of June 5, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends section 255 of the Criminal Code to establish the possibility of imposing more severe penalties for offences committed under section 253 in circumstances where the offender has a blood alcohol content that exceeds one hundred and sixty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood and to raise the minimum penalties that apply to convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.

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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2015 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank the hon. member for Lethbridge for agreeing to trade his scheduled private members' business time with me, so that I could rise before my scheduled surgery next week. It is greatly appreciated. I would also like to thank all members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for unanimously passing Bill C-590 at committee stage.

The committee amended Bill C-590 to address its concerns that the bill's very significant penalties, particularly for first offenders, could lead to many cases where the driver refuses to provide a breath sample because the penalty for refusal has only a mandatory minimum penalty of $1,000. The amendment passed by the committee classifies the offence of driving with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.16% as a hybrid offence. On indictment, the penalties would remain as proposed in the bill. On summary convictions, the mandatory minimum fine for the first offence would increase to $2,000, which is double the minimum fine for impaired driving. For a second and subsequent offence, the minimum penalty would be 30 days in prison.

The amendment would ensure in most cases where drivers have a blood alcohol concentration of over 0.16% but there is no injury or death that a $2,000 fine combined with a mandatory prohibition on driving for one year would be a sufficient deterrent. Further, very severe penalties on indictment would be reserved for the most serious cases where a motor vehicle operator's blood alcohol concentration is well above 0.16% or the driver caused significant property damage.

According to Stats Canada, almost half the fatally injured drivers in Canada had a blood alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit. This level of impairment has had a devastating impact on our youth as they make up 31% of the alcohol-related deaths.

A June 2009 report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on alcohol use among fatally injured drivers also found that the bulk of the impaired driving problems lie with those drivers having a blood alcohol content over the current Criminal Code limit of 0.08%. Although the drivers with high blood alcohol content represent about 1% of the cars on the road at night and on weekends, they account for nearly 50% or half of all the drivers killed at those times.

My home community of Prince Albert, as most communities in our nation, has been scarred by the toll of this selfish but preventable crime.

In July 2013, Taylor Litwin and Brandi Lepine, who was pregnant at the time of the accident, were both killed when a 21-year-old drunk driver slammed into Taylor's vehicle. Brandi, who initially survived the crash, was able to give birth to her daughter Aurora before she succumbed to her injuries. The driver who took the life of these two ladies is to be sentenced this fall.

In May 2012, Prince Albert lost a strong community leader, Mr. Ben Darchuk. Ben was the owner of an auto glass business that is located next to my old constituency office location. The 22-year-old driver who pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing Ben's death received two years less a day at a provincial correctional centre for his sentence. He also received a three-year driving prohibition and was ordered to pay a $100 surcharge.

Bill C-590 would target these young drivers with high blood alcohol content by increasing specific penalties for their actions. The goal is to prevent these drivers from getting behind the wheel as they cause a greater number of fatalities and are more likely to be repeat offenders.

As time at the end of this Parliament session is quickly running out, I therefore ask that we pass Bill C-590 as quickly as we can to give the Senate enough time to deliberate and pass it before the fast-approaching summer is upon us.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2015 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is truly an honour for me to rise in the House today on behalf of the people of Alfred-Pellan in Laval, whom I have represented for four years, to talk about a private member's bill, Bill C-590, An Act to amend the Criminal Code provisions on blood alcohol content.

I would like to begin by telling my colleague who introduced this bill in the House that I will support it at third reading, and I will explain why we on this side have taken this stance.

In light of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights' recent study of this bill, New Democrats believe that Bill C-590 is a step in the right direction to combat the scourge of drunk driving.

In essence, Bill C-590 amends section 255 of the Criminal Code to establish the possibility of imposing more severe penalties for offences committed under section 253 in circumstances where the offender has a blood alcohol content that exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, which is double the amount that now constitutes an offence. It also raises the minimum penalties that apply to convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.

As a young mother of a two-year-old little girl, as a woman and as a New Democrat, I truly believe that drinking and driving is a very important issue. I also think that all parliamentarians in the House care deeply about this issue.

I do not mean to speak on behalf of all parents here, but I am sure that every father, every mother and every grandparent cares a great deal about the health and safety of their children, their family, their fellow citizens and the general public.

I am quite confident that everyone here in the House wants to address the problem of drinking and driving, and Bill C-590 is a step in the right direction.

I am not a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. However, I do have some wonderful colleagues, like the member for Gatineau and the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who are members of that committee. I looked at their work and the work done by my other colleagues, because I am always interested in what is happening at committee, and everyone wanted to ensure that these new measures were designed to eliminate the scourge that claims too many Canadians' lives every year.

I support the bill, but I know that it has some shortcomings, which is rather unfortunate. However, as I said, it is a step in the right direction.

Although Canada has very tough laws and penalties for impaired driving, more than 750 motorists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists were killed every year between 2003 and 2005 in traffic accidents involving drunk drivers. Even one death is one too many, but this is more than two people per day. That is far too many, and we need to implement measures to address this problem.

This is a relatively conservative estimate, since in some cases it was not possible to determine whether the driver had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. Some road safety organizations estimate that the number of victims is actually much higher.

Although the exact number of victims is in question, no one doubts that impaired driving causes a large number of injuries and deaths that could be avoided.

My colleague's bill, Bill C-590, seeks to decrease the number of injuries and deaths by amending section 255 of the Criminal Code to establish more severe penalties for offences committed under the Criminal Code in circumstances where the offender's blood alcohol content exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol.

As I mentioned previously, the bill also seeks to raise the minimum penalties that apply to convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.

I sincerely believe that we need to do more to combat impaired driving.

The NDP examined the measures proposed by the member for Prince Albert, and saw that they were a step in the right direction towards effectively fighting the scourge of drunk driving.

However, there remain some questions about minimum sentences, even though we had already raised them. The minimum sentences in this bill are substantially shorter than the current sentences that are imposed for these offences. I mentioned a few of this bill's flaws, including these shorter minimum sentences. I will talk later about why this matters.

For example, in 2011-12, the mean length of imprisonment was 277 days for impaired driving causing bodily harm, and 959 days for impaired driving causing death. Why are the proposed minimum sentences important and why do we need to discuss them? There is a tendency for a minimum sentence to become the default sentence, except in the worst cases. In other words, the minimum sentence ends up being the norm rather than a sentence reserved for less serious crimes. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that defence lawyers will ask for the minimum sentence, unless the Crown can prove that their client's crime warrants a special punishment.

As I said, we absolutely must do more to address drunk driving. There are a number of things we can do as parliamentarians, but also as citizens in our communities.

I want to reiterate the question my NDP colleague asked about the type of consultations that were done with regard to the bill introduced by my colleague from Prince Albert. I would have liked more details on who was consulted on the bill. I know that MADD Canada works very hard on the issue of drunk driving. Everyone acknowledges the exemplary work that it does, but it would be good to know how MADD feels about this bill. It would also be good to get feedback from the many stakeholders across Canada who work on this issue that is so very important to our constituents. This is important input if we want to have leadership and crack down on drunk driving.

This bill deals with sentences for offenders, but we cannot forget that there is work to be done before things get to that point. I cannot stress this enough, but when it comes to topics that are this sensitive, it is often important to educate people. Whether we are talking about young drivers taking the wheel, starting their classes or applying for a licence, it is preferable for parents to get them started with good habits. We need to look at everything we can possibly do. We also need to ensure that people who already have a licence understand the negative impact that drinking and driving can have as well as all the potential consequences for our society. We cannot forget that education plays an important role in this issue.

I also want to mention that I am a young mother and that I have since become more interested in these issues. I think that is how it normally works. We all want to ensure that we do a good job of raising our family. As a young mother I must say that I really sympathize with all the victims and families of victims of drunk driving. It is never an easy thing. No one can understand what it means to lose a loved one, regardless of the circumstances.

I think that a fairly funded justice system would truly help them through the process. We can never forget the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of drunk driving.

I would like to make something clear. This bill does not specifically target young people. We need to avoid stereotypes here. It is very important that we not stereotype our youth. In this case, I think we really need to be careful. We need to remember that the statistics on young people and drunk driving have improved a lot in recent years. I think that is the result of the great work being done by parents and society in general.

In closing, I would like to thank all those who worked on this bill when it was before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as well as my colleague from Prince Albert. I also want to acknowledge the incredible work done by our justice critic, my colleague from Gatineau, and her deputy critic, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. They worked very hard on this issue.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2015 / 1:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-590, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to blood alcohol content. This bill, from the member for Prince Albert, would allow for stiffer penalties for impaired driving where the offender was severely intoxicated. Specifically, the changes would apply to convictions where an offender's blood alcohol concentration exceeded 160 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood at the time of the offence. As the justice critic for the Liberal Party, I have recommended that my caucus colleagues support this bill.

Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada. Every life taken by a drunk driver is an avoidable tragedy. Getting behind the wheel while impaired is a reckless and selfish personal choice, and its predictable results cannot be undone.

Across the country, the number of bodily injuries and deaths caused by impaired driving continues to be unacceptably high. It has been a perennial and vexing problem in my province of Prince Edward Island, and I know that the same can be said for the home province of the member for Prince Albert.

I will say a few words later on about some creative strategies my province is trying, strategies that could be used beyond the simple solution of amending the Criminal Code, which seems to be the default tool of choice for just about everything for the government.

In spite of the inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences, I can support this legislation. By targeting drivers who are severely intoxicated, Bill C-590 would send a public message about the category of drivers who pose the greatest statistical risk.

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation has found that impaired drivers with a blood alcohol content of over 160 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood represent close to 70% of impaired drivers killed in car accidents. When we are talking about this crime, I do think stiffer penalties may be an effective deterrent, since many people who get behind the wheel while impaired would not be prone to criminality in general.

Impaired driving is a crime people have taken more seriously over the years, in large part due to the advocacy of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. My hope is that keeping a focus on this issue in Parliament can continue the cultural shift toward social condemnation of impaired driving. This is a crime where stigma is the real deterrent.

Far fewer people drive while intoxicated today, so we see that behaviours can change, and we see evidence to this effect. According to StatsCan, the rate of impaired driving causing death dropped 29% in 2011, reaching its lowest point in over 25 years. The number of incidents of impaired driving causing bodily harm also fell to half of what it was 25 years before. Of course, half the number of incidents is not good enough. Behaviours need to keep changing.

Everyone in the chamber understands what I am talking about. Every Canadian community has been touched by impaired driving.

Coming from Charlottetown, the way impaired driving has touched me is in the case of my neighbour, Kristen Cameron. This young lady used to babysit my children. She was a very talented and promising young hockey player who was recruited on a hockey scholarship to play in the United States. She excelled in the United States and was actually named to the all-American team for female hockey. She went on to share her talents as a coach at Mercyhurst College, one of the premier women's hockey programs in the country. During her time as a coach, she was driving her bike when she was struck by a drunk driver and rendered quadriplegic.

Unlike many stories involving drunk driving, however, this one, while it involves a tragedy, does not have a particularly sad ending. Kristen continues to inspire through her sheer determination. She is about to be named to the Canadian Paralympic rugby team. She is certainly someone who continues to make all Prince Edward Islanders proud.

Across the country, there are too many stories of lives lost or changed forever by impaired driving. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, estimates that there are somewhere between 1,250 and 1,500 impairment-related crash deaths in Canada every year, which is 3.4 to 4.1 per day.

Then, there are the injuries. In 2010, MADD estimated that there were approximately 63,821 individuals injured in impairment related crashes. That same year, according to Statistics Canada, police reported 121 incidents of impaired driving causing death, though my understanding is that number only refers to the number of charges. According to Transport Canada, alcohol use was a factor in almost 30% of deaths from vehicle crashes during the 2003 to 2005 period. As I said, impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada.

What would Bill C-590 change? This bill would amend the Criminal Code to create higher minimum sentences and allow the imposition of more severe penalties for impaired driving where the offender is acutely intoxicated. Again, we are talking about a blood alcohol content of over 160 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. To put that into perspective, I understand that that would mean approximately 8 drinks for a 160 pound individual.

Bill C-590 would also create minimum penalties for convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. The specific changes are as follows. Currently, if someone is caught with blood alcohol content over 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres, a summary conviction fine of $1,000 applies. With a level over 160 milligrams, it is an aggravated circumstance in sentencing. With Bill C-590, if the level is over 160 milligrams, it would be a minimum $2,000 fine, twice the current amount. In addition, the penalties on indictment would be much more severe, with a minimum fine of $2,000 and a minimum of 60 days in prison. The maximum period in prison would also be doubled, to ten years, on indictment. A second or subsequent offence would carry a minimum of 240 days in prison, which is again double the current amount.

These changes in Bill C-590 have been amended since the House last considered this bill. The change at committee was to retain a summary conviction option for acute intoxication. That change came out of concern for creating a loophole whereby drivers would simply refuse samples, which carries a lower penalty. The change that we settled on does not make for a perfect law, but it is an improvement that will affect some offenders.

I commend the mover and his colleagues on the justice committee for making amendments that have improved this bill and provided a mechanism for prosecutors to exercise discretion in such a manner as to avoid the one size fits all consequences of minimum mandatory sentences.

I would like to say a word about the situation in Prince Edward Island, where we have a chronic problem with drunk driving. That is in spite of guidelines within our provincial courts that make incarceration automatic in virtually 100% of DUI cases, regardless of the blood alcohol content reading. Along with Saskatchewan and the territories, we have one of the highest rates of impaired driving in Canada, I am sad to say.

In 2012, our provincial government did something about it, with three significant changes to the law. First, first-time offenders must have ignition interlocks installed. Second, offenders caught with children under 16 years of age in their vehicle will have to use ignition breathalyzers for two years. Third, the government introduced tougher rules for impounding vehicles. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was very supportive of those changes.

In addition, Prince Edward Island has introduced special discrete licence plates for police to recognize the vehicles of repeat drunk drivers, as well as a campaign for people to call 911 if they observe impaired driving. Again, Mothers Against Drunk Driving supported these changes.

There are potential solutions to problems other than amendments to the Criminal Code. We have seen promising results. From 2013 to 2014, the number of convictions for impaired driving decreased by nearly 20%. We need to do better, but I am pleased to see progress and I am hopeful for the future. In 2013, we had 297 convictions for impaired driving, and in 2014, we had 241. Compare that to 628 convictions in 1989, and 1,570 convictions in 1980.

I would encourage parliamentarians from all parties to take a look at these measures on the island and consider whether they could be useful in their respective regions. The parties in the House disagree on many issues, but the need to stop drunk driving in Canada is not one of them. That is why I will be supporting Bill C-590.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2015 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the justice critic for the official opposition, I have the honour of rising in the House on this Friday afternoon to speak to Bill C-590 on behalf of both my riding of Gatineau and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party. First of all, I would like to say that we too support Bill C-590, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content). This bill seeks to establish more severe penalties for offences where the offender has a blood alcohol content that exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood and where driving under the influence results in serious consequences, such as bodily harm or even death.

I heard a number of my colleagues in the House mention that impaired driving is still a scourge even today in 2015. It is still a problem. People go out and they still think that they can drive a vehicle, which can actually be considered a weapon. A vehicle can cause considerable damage. Nevertheless, some people seem to think that they can get behind the wheel of their vehicle after they have been drinking, no matter how many drinks they have had.

The New Democratic Party obviously has a zero tolerance policy for impaired driving. We believe that even more can be done. Members may ask if I think that Bill C-590 will solve this problem. When members introduce a bill, they usually want to make sure that it accomplishes what it is supposed to. In this case, the member obviously wants to send a clear message, but I hope that the bill will do more than that because it does not seem that people really understand. There are many repeat drunk drivers who unfortunately do not seem to care about the Criminal Code.

Is Bill C-590 going to make every single Canadian understand the concept of zero tolerance once and for all? I highly doubt it. First of all, I doubt that this bill is that well-thought-out. Whether the Conservative member introducing this bill likes it or not, it definitely should have been fine-tuned a little more. For now, with this parliamentary session coming to an end and time running out, it is a half measure. Clearly, the person who introduced the bill had good intentions in relation to its objective, but he is not a legal expert. Few witnesses appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to talk to us about Bill C-590, so the member left many questions unanswered.

We realize, and people from the Justice Department also realize, that this bill has a few gaps in it that should have been fixed before it was introduced. This is perhaps another reason why these kinds of files do not usually come from backbenchers, but rather the government, because they involve complex policies. Certain sections of the Criminal Code can lead to disputes as well as some confusion.

The main confusion here relates to a question I asked my colleague across the way when he first introduced the bill. When most offenders are first stopped by a police officer on the side of the road, they are asked to take a breathalyzer test. Knowing the penalties for someone who has more than 160 millilitres of alcohol in their blood, would the person not be better off to simply refuse to take the breathalyzer? Of course, refusing the test carries its own penalties, but, Mr. Speaker, since you are a lawyer like me, you know that those penalties are much less harsh than the penalties that would apply under Bill C-590 if it passes.

Someone who is very drunk would certainly have greater incentive to refuse to take a breathalyzer test, rather than giving the Crown evidence that they are above the new limit that comes with this new sentence.

As justice critic for the New Democratic Party, I have always believed that when we are drafting bills it is not a matter of taking a tough-on-crime approach—as the Conservatives love to say—but a matter of taking an intelligent approach. We need to ensure that the measures we take will truly achieve what we claim they will.

For example, if Bill C-590 passes, we could see games being played. As I mentioned in committee, in January or February this year, a judge in the riding of Gatineau dismissed some 30 impaired driving cases because the cases had not been tried within a reasonable amount of time. This made the news, and many people were shocked.

On occasion I go through my riding to talk about drunk driving and how, despite all of the awareness campaigns and the harsher sentences in recent years, people still do not seem to get the message. The problem is that the Conservatives have made all kinds of amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code.

Criminal justice experts, such as crown prosecutors, defence attorneys, police forces, judges and all stakeholders, tell me that there are so many delays in these cases that the Crown and the defence end up playing games.

Since sentences are more severe, the defence is less likely to negotiate a plea bargain with the Crown and more likely to go to court in all cases to avoid certain new sentences. This creates a tremendous backlog in our courthouses. Gatineau is not alone in this. We see it all across Quebec and Canada.

This backlog should not be the one thing preventing us from taking action. However, as we in the New Democratic Party often say, if the government wants to introduce new sentences and a new way of doing things, it has to give the police the tools they need. For example, there should be more officers on the ground so that offenders can be arrested. The government also has to ensure that our justice system can handle these people and hold their trials within a reasonable period of time instead of allowing unreasonable delays due to a shortage of judges, crown prosecutors and courtrooms.

Taken together, these elements result in an extremely dysfunctional system. Courts are begging for help, but nobody is responding. All the government does is give them new laws that they have to adapt to and interpret within the context of other laws. This complicates legal situations and sometimes results in the opposite of what the Conservatives are trying to achieve. Lots of people manage to slip through the cracks in the system. How many times have I read in the paper that somebody has been caught for the fifth time and been sentenced to the equivalent of a slap on the wrist?

One serious problem that the Conservatives have not yet fixed is the fact that criminal records are not always up to date because the RCMP lacks resources. We know there is a way to emphasize recidivism before the courts, but the criminal record and the history have to be properly identified. If they are not, the Crown cannot work miracles. It cannot say that a particular conviction has not yet been entered on the record but that the individual was convicted in such and such a year. That is not how it works. Sometimes there are more basic problems to fix.

This will not stop us from supporting Bill C-590, which is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, it certainly is not the answer to all our problems when it comes to zero tolerance for drunk driving.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2015 / 2:05 p.m.
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NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, although it is always difficult to follow the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, I am pleased to rise in the House to debate Bill C-590, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content).

First of all I would like to say that I personally will be voting for the bill at third reading stage. However, I feel the need to repeat some of the very eloquent arguments made by the member for Gatineau, the official opposition's justice critic, and the member for Alfred-Pellan. They discussed some very important points that were completely ignored by the Conservative government. That is nothing new, as we have seen this repeatedly over the past four years.

This is a pertinent bill in that the issue of drunk driving is of concern to all Canadians. I am sure that all of us here in the House, and all Canadians, can think of examples of tragic events that have affected us directly or indirectly, within our family or in the community where we live.

Clearly we need harsher penalties for impaired driving, and the offence itself needs to be a more serious one. It was not so long ago that drunk driving was considered a minor offence, simply a car accident. It was not considered a criminal offence. I think that we on this side of the House can be pleased with the progress that has been made since that type of mentality was the norm.

However, there are certain approaches that are reminiscent of the Conservative government's old way of thinking. I am talking about minimum sentences. The hon. member for Gatineau said quite eloquently that such provisions could be counterproductive. For the past four years, the government has been adding minimum sentences to just about every serious offence. When we look at the U.S. experience, it is clear that minimum sentences show a lack of confidence in the judges and the justice system, and that they also come at a high cost to the community because the judges are prevented from taking the context of the offence into account.

When we are talking about drunk driving, the context is hard to deny. Someone who simply drank too much and lacked judgment must be held criminally responsible for his or her actions. However, if we look at all the other offences that have been brought in by this government and that are now subject to minimum sentencing, we can see that minimum sentences are often counterproductive, either because they do not leave room for potential rehabilitation or because they impose a general direction that later becomes automatically adopted. In other words, the minimum sentence becomes a standard, when the circumstances and the context might call for a harsher sentence. The justice system and the judges in whom the government is showing a lack of faith, might be tempted to go with the lowest common denominator, and they do it quite often, as demonstrated, once again, by the U.S. experience.

In that sense, we are opposed to minimum sentences, not because we think that criminals should not receive punishments that fit their crimes, but because the government has repeatedly gone down the wrong track by failing to put faith in our justice system. Once again, I want to make it clear that all of us in the House, or at least those of us on this side, believe that drunk driving is a serious criminal offence that often endangers the lives of others. I imagine those on the government side agree.

I would like to comment on another point raised by my colleague from Gatineau, who knows what she is talking about. Even if we had the strictest justice system in the world, if the government does not give the forces of law and order the resources they need, it will be very difficult to ensure compliance with Parliament's intention. If the RCMP and our police forces in general lack resources, if our legal system and our courts lack resources, we will have a flawed system that does not work well and does not have the technical means to enforce the sentences that fit the crimes.

The typical example that was raised by my colleague from Gatineau is the 50 or so cases where drivers were charged with impaired driving but then let off without ever going to court. Why? Too much time had passed between the time they were arrested and charged and their trial, so the case was thrown out. Is that responsible? No. These people were charged with a serious crime and society did not even have the chance to hear the cases and impose sanctions.

It is all well and good to say that we have tough laws and we want to make them even tougher, but if the legal system does not have the resources it needs, then tougher laws will be completely useless. This looks good on paper. On the surface, we seem to be doing our job, but when it comes right down to it, society is no better off.

Like the member for Prince Albert and the other members who spoke about this bill, I realize that there need to be tougher penalties for impaired drivers and that it should be left to our judges' discretion to impose those penalties. I agree that a person's faculties can be impaired by substances other than alcohol, and that is an issue we could consider.

I truly hope that, as much as possible, the legal system will continue to consider the serious consequences and harm caused by impaired driving in our communities and that sentences for these offences will serve more and more as examples. That is why I will be voting in favour of this bill at third reading.

However, I would have much preferred this bill to come from the government. We have so many private members' bills that should be part of the government's concerted law and order strategy, and impaired driving should be included in that in order to increase prevention and ensure that the issue of sentencing and harsher penalties is part of that established strategy.

I applaud the initiative of the member in question, but I would like to see a more elaborate strategy from the government on this issue. I have not seen that so far, which is unfortunate. Since I applaud the member's initiative, I will be pleased to vote in favour of the bill at third reading.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 8th, 2014 / 6:20 p.m.
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Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today in support of Bill C-590, an act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content). This private member's bill was tabled by the member for Prince Albert on April 9 and it addresses minimum penalties for the crime of impaired driving.

As much as there has been improvement in this area of the law over the past 40 years, more has to be done. Impaired driving cases are familiar to all Canadians. Everyone knows a family member, a friend or someone in their community who has been touched by this crime.

Over the past decades, we have managed to lower the number of persons who are killed in collisions involving alcohol-impaired driving. Lives have been saved by the efforts of families, individuals, schools, service organizations, police and legislatures.

I would like to recognize the really great work of the people who volunteer for Operation Red Nose, in the month of December, who volunteer to drive until the wee hours of the morning to keep impaired drivers off the road.

However, even with the improvements, the sad reality is that impaired driving remains a pernicious and persisting crime. It is the single most committed crime at 12% of crimes, according to the Statistics Canada 2011 Juristat on impaired driving.

Impaired driving is said by prosecutors to take up about 40% of provincial court trial time. The great tragedy is that hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries every year from impaired driving are, each and every one, avoidable.

With the arrival of the motor car at the turn of the 20th century, it soon became clear that death and injury from crashes were part of the new motorized driving reality.

In 1921, Parliament enacted the offence of driving while intoxicated, in recognition of the reality that driving while intoxicated greatly increased the risk of a crash.

In 1951, Parliament added to the Criminal Code the offence of driving while impaired, in recognition that it was not only someone who was intoxicated who posed a higher risk of a crash.

In 1969, Parliament repealed the driving while intoxicated offence and followed some other western nations in setting a blood alcohol concentration above which it is an offence to drive.

The over 80 offence rested upon the development of technology to measure blood alcohol concentration, which is converted using a blood-to-breath ratio into a blood alcohol concentration.

Over the years, Parliament has acted many times to improve the impaired driving provisions in the Criminal Code, which brings me to Bill C-590.

The bill could be seen as taking the step in the right direction. The bill is also in the spirit of one of the recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that was made in the committee's 2009 report, entitled “Ending Alcohol-impaired Driving: A Common Approach”.

The report was in favour of setting higher penalties for individuals who drove with a blood alcohol concentration which was over 160. Currently, a reading above 160 on an approved instrument is an aggravating factor for Criminal Code sentencing purposes.

Bill C-590 proposes two things.

First, it would create a new offence of driving while over 160 that would be a straight indictable offence. The mandatory minimum penalties would be even more severe than a case where someone drove while over 80. On a first over 160 conviction, there would be a mandatory minimum penalty, or MMP, of a fine of $2,000 and imprisonment for 60 days. On the second offence, there would be an MMP of 240 days imprisonment.

The second thing that Bill C-590 would do is to raise the MMP where an offender caused a crash involving a death or bodily harm while driving impaired or over 80 or when the driver refused to provide a breath sample knowing of the death or bodily harm.

Right now, in these cases, the MMP is a fine of $1,000 on a first offence, 30 days imprisonment on a second offence and 120 days imprisonment on a subsequent offence.

For a first offence that causes a death or bodily harm, Bill C-590 would set an MMP of $5,000 and 120 days imprisonment. For a second offence, it would be 240 days imprisonment.

It would be advisable to consider at committee whether there should be a higher MMP for causing death than for causing bodily harm. I understand that the current MMP was set for the purpose of avoiding situations where a person who drove impaired and/or over 80 and/or refused to provide a breath sample could be given a conditional sentence of imprisonment.

Where there is an MMP, no conditional sentence is available. However, the MMPs for the cause of death or bodily harm scenarios are the same as the MMPs for impaired and/or over 80 and/or the refusal where there is no death or bodily harm. In death cases, the courts are clearly giving sentences measured in years and are not giving the $1,000 MMP. It may be helpful to hear from witnesses, and to see whether there needs to be any adjustment to the MMPs.

I am pleased that Parliament is being given the opportunity to respond to one of the recommendations in the 2009 report of the standing committee. We can establish MMPs that will have a deterring effect and that will have an effect on public safety because they incapacitate the high blood alcohol concentration drivers and the drivers who kill or injure in offences of impaired driving, over 80 driving or refusal to provide a breath sample.

I ask all parliamentarians to join me in supporting Bill C-590.

I would like to put my notes down and just tell the House a bit of a story.

It is a story of a nurse from Newmarket who had spent 25 years of her nursing career at what was then York County Hospital, who at the end of her career had determined that there were other opportunities for her to provide service and had dedicated the end of her career to serving people who were AIDS patients. She was providing personal service as a private duty nurse to those people.

It was Friday, February 8, 1991, when that nurse left Newmarket to drive to Kleinburg to a special patient. Somewhere around the Ansnorveldt road, a driver who was driving over 85 miles per hour came across five lanes of traffic and hit that nurse head-on.

She did not survive. It was my mother's birthday. Things need to change.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 8th, 2014 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, drunk driving is a public safety issue that deserves more of our attention. That applies to our assessment of whether the legislative measures in this bill can help eliminate this scourge.

It goes without saying that enhancing road safety involves several factors, from the quality of physical infrastructure to Criminal Code provisions penalizing drunk drivers.

I would like to go over some key numbers that illustrate the devastating impact of this scourge on families in Quebec and Canada. Some 5.4 million Canadians say that they have a family member or friend who has driven drunk or caused an accident. We know that with this type of statistic, when people talk about a friend or an acquaintance, they are sometimes talking about themselves, but because they do not want to incriminate themselves, they say they know someone. That number is still astronomical.

Nearly a quarter of the Canadian population has a family member or close friend who has been a victim of a drunk driving accident. According to Transport Canada, alcohol was a factor in nearly 30% of traffic accident fatalities from 2003 to 2005.

Unfortunately, my riding, Trois-Rivières, has troubling statistics on this too. According to a study that looked at June of 2013, the Trois-Rivières police service made about one arrest a day, 28 that month to be precise. Impaired driving is still the leading criminal cause of death in Canada.

These statistics show how important it is to examine this issue. I support moving forward with the bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Prince Albert, so that the committee can look at it, study its impact on sentence length and ensure that the provisions comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian criminal law.

The Criminal Code of Canada has very strict laws and sanctions for impaired driving. Specifically, several Canadian provinces have in place a three-tier system based on blood alcohol content. The first tier is zero milligrams of alcohol for young and novice drivers. The second tier allows for administrative sanctions in some cases for a BAC over 0.05 milligrams. Lastly, drivers with a BAC over 0.08 milligrams are liable to sanctions under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Furthermore, new provisions were added in the Criminal Code and came into force on July 2, 2008. This means that there are now nine distinct offences related to impaired driving. Unfortunately, despite the introduction of more coercive measures, the Canadian Police Association recognizes the challenges faced on the ground in terms of combatting this scourge.

In addition to the human cost related to this phenomenon, the average cost of impaired driving accidents in Canada from 1999 to 2006 has been estimated at $1.9 billion per year. This estimate does not include any of the social costs that result from those offences.

With respect to Bill C-590, it would be interesting to explore whether reducing mandatory minimum prison sentences for impaired driving causing death is the right thing to do here. It would be useful to debate this, because these mandatory minimum sentences are shorter than existing sentences. Reducing mandatory minimum sentences for impaired driving causing death could prove counterproductive. According to the jurisprudence, minimum penalties tend to become the default penalty. In other words, minimum penalties become the norm, rather than being reserved for the least serious cases or those where there are mitigating factors.

Accordingly, it would be entirely reasonable to expect defence lawyers to ask for the minimum penalty, unless the Crown can prove that the defendant's crime deserves a punishment that will serve as an example.

The federal Criminal Code is not enough to address the risks to road safety caused by impaired drivers. The duty to enforce the law in this area is shared by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

There are a number of solutions that we can implement incrementally to deter impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel and endangering others. One of the deterrents that can be implemented is random breathalyzer tests for blood alcohol concentrations.

In Ireland, the Road Safety Authority believes that random breathalyzer testing has led to a 23% reduction in the number of highway deaths. That is something that could be considered. This last measure is just one of many options available to us to effectively fight delinquent behaviour.

To introduce an effective measure that will eradicate this scourge, we have to consider the fact that drunk driving is the manifestation of social problems that coercive measures alone cannot address. By adopting this approach, we could transform our legislative framework and make it preventive as well as punitive.

Preventing impaired driving must be based on campaigns that look at much more than just drunk driving and also raise awareness among drivers of the link between alcoholism, violence and risky behaviour.

Impaired driving is above all a social problem. We have to consider ways to prevent risky behaviours and create public policies with the ultimate objective of reducing risky behaviours in our society—including impaired driving—rather than creating a legislative framework that depends solely on coercion. Alcoholism does lead to crime, but we must remember that coercion can make it worse.

Preventive social policies, such as those that seek to address the socio-economic determinants of alcoholism, produce more effective results in the long term by taking a holistic approach to the problem, which requires the intervention of health professionals, social workers and members of police forces.

In closing, I support the bill introduced by the member for Prince Albert. I believe that sending it to committee will provide the opportunity for more in-depth analysis of how to achieve the desired results.

We should also be looking to technological advancements for solutions. For example, I am thinking about car locks that are opened with a number combination instead of a key. They make it more difficult to open the door if the driver has had one too many and is not fully coherent. Opening the door requires some thought, and the door is prevented from opening if it is not unlocked within a given time frame.

The Criminal Code, new technology and international experience in this area should all be part of our collective thought process as we determine how we can put an end to this problem, which has disastrous consequences for families in Quebec and Canada.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 18th, 2014 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 18th, 2014 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have indicated on countless occasions my profound concern about the ongoing effort of Conservative members of Parliament who introduce bills allegedly to combat crime. I have repeatedly made my concerns known that these crime bills are undermining the coherence of the Criminal Code of Canada. Far too often we find backbench MPs introducing private members' bills primarily relating to crime and justice, and more often than not based on input from the Prime Minister's Office.

I am also concerned that these private members' initiatives are not properly vetted to ensure their charter compliance. Unfortunately, that concern applies to government bills in too many cases, which, when introduced, immediately raise serious constitutional issues.

To underscore this concern we need only look at what happened yesterday with the Minister of Justice, who yesterday and again today was telling the House and the media bizarrely that the Supreme Court's ruling last Friday somehow was a victory for his government. More specifically, he was suggesting that there was something in the court ruling that was a victory for Bill C-13 and Bill S-4. Never mind that in the reality in which most of us operate, the court ruling undercuts both of those bills.

When it comes to so-called tough on crime legislation, whether from the government or backbench MPs, we on this side are more than a little suspicious of their motives. Moreover, we are concerned whether or not these bills, and there are many, are constitutional.

Again, the overall impact of these bills is to make the Criminal Code incoherent, which is unfortunate. The Criminal Code should not be used as a political fundraising tool, and I submit that the government has used these private members' bills and other government bills for no other reason than to raise money.

Today, however, as I indicated earlier, we may have a rare exception to that rule. We are debating Bill C-590 in the name of the member for Prince Albert. It was certainly encouraging to hear him say that he is open to amendments that would seek to achieve the objective of the bill.

As we know, Bill C-590 would amend the Criminal Code to increase mandatory minimum penalties for impaired driving where the offender has a blood alcohol content more than double the legal limit.

Currently, there are minimums for drivers over the legal limit and for convictions of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. In most provinces, a minimum jail time does not apply for a first offence. As I indicated in my question earlier, there is an exception in Prince Edward Island. That is how the case law has developed. But in most of the country there is no mandatory jail time for a first offender with a blood alcohol level of 0.08.

The hon. member will be pleased to know that today, after careful consideration and consultation with my colleagues, I have recommended to the Liberal caucus that we support Bill C-590.

My major concern is with the use of mandatory minimum jail sentences. The hon. member would know that we opposed in principle the use of mandatory minimums, and we do so because there is no evidence to suggest that they work or are effective in reducing crime. We believe that mandatory minimums should be the exception and not the rule.

We will support sending the bill to committee because we agree with the objective of the bill, and at committee, hopefully we will have an opportunity to hear how best to achieve that objective.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the member for Prince Albert for his effort. I believe he is sincere in that effort. I believe he is in fact seeking to make our roads and highways safer.

We all know that drinking and driving remains a serious issue in Canada. The number of bodily injuries and deaths caused by impaired driving continues to be unacceptably high. By targeting impaired drivers with a blood alcohol over 160 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, the act would create a specific deterrent to the class of drivers who pose the greatest statistical risk.

By dealing severely with the worst consequences of impaired driving, which are bodily injury and death of third parties, the act would also emphasize the rationale behind deterring impaired driving. Limiting judicial discretion is problematic, but this is, indeed, a serious enough issue that it merits further examination.

It should be noted that impaired driving continues to be a particular problem in locations and provinces across the country, including, and especially, in my own province of Prince Edward Island. In Prince Edward Island, the provincial government is doing what it can to address this problem. Just in the last session of the provincial legislature, a law was passed that would mandate a special license plate for chronic offenders of the impaired driving laws. This would allow police, but not the general public, to identify those who fall into this category. This is the type of innovative thinking that is required to combat this problem, not the automatic default to mandatory minimum jail time that we so often see.

Also in our province, as I indicated, the case law has grown such that there are sentencing guidelines for impaired driving offences. Those sentencing guidelines require that every single person in Prince Edward Island who is convicted of a drunk driving offence, whether it is at 0.08, 0.16, or whether it is a first offence, should bring their toothbrush, as we say, because they are going to Sleepy Hollow for the weekend, at a minimum.

Here is some relevant background information. The Traffic Injury Research Foundation has found that impaired drivers with a blood alcohol level at 160 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood represent close to 70% of impaired drivers killed in car accidents. According to Statistics Canada, impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada.

Let me focus a bit on fatalities. It is estimated that in 2010, 2,500 individuals were killed in motor vehicle crashes in Canada. Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada estimates that, at a minimum, 1,082 of these fatalities were impairment related. In MADD Canada's opinion, the 1,082 figure is a conservative estimate, due to the under-reporting that results from the inability to conduct alcohol tests on surviving impaired drivers, and from the need to rely on police reports. Moreover, the figure underestimates the percentage of crash deaths that involve drugs, thus the recent sharp increase in driving after drug use was not factored into the 1,082 figure.

Additionally, that 1,082 figure does not include individuals killed in impaired crashes on waterways. It was estimated that there were more 135 boating deaths per year from 2006 to 2008. It appears that more than 50% of those boating deaths involved alcohol and/or drugs. That 1,082 also does not include fatalities arising from aircraft, trains, and industrial vehicles, such as forklifts.

Given the limits on this 1,082 figure, MADD Canada estimates that there are somewhere between 1,250 and 1,500 impairment related crash deaths in Canada each year. That amounts to three to four deaths per day.

I would like to turn now to the matter of injuries caused by impaired driving. In 2010, it was estimated that about 300,000 individuals were injured in motor vehicle crashes. MADD Canada estimates that approximately 64,000 of those individuals were injured in impairment related crashes. That is roughly 175 per day. This figure is limited to motor vehicle crashes only.

There is also information available on property damage. In 2010, it was estimated that approximately 1.7 million motor vehicles were involved in property damage-only crashes in Canada. MADD Canada estimates that approximately 211,000 of these vehicles were damaged in impairment related crashes. That works out to 578 per day.

Finally, there is the financial cost. Using a social cost model, impairment related driving deaths, injuries, and property damage-only crashes in Canada can be estimated to have cost $20.6 billion in 2010. This model is recent, it is based on extensive analysis, and it was prepared for the Department of Transport.

This bill would meet a positive policy objective. People who drink should not drive. That may seem like a simple suggestion to us here, but far too often, people do drink and then decide that they are okay to drive. This is never acceptable and, on that point, I believe the House is united.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 18th, 2014 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-590, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to blood alcohol content.

I would first like to congratulate my hon. friend, the member for Prince Albert, for bringing this important bill forward. People should know that the member for Prince Albert has served on the agriculture committee, the international trade committee, the finance committee, and many other of the most important committees of this place. He is a great advocate of the Canadian agrifood industry, which he has a great deal of personal experience in. He has represented Canada on the international trade committee and in the travels with the international trade committee around the world, and does a great service to our country in promoting the trade of all the goods and services that Canada produces around the world. He has been, since 2011, president of ParlAmericas, which is a very important organization that represents legislators from all of the countries of North and South and Central America. He has travelled extensively in the United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America on behalf of Canada over the last several years, promoting our trade interests. For that alone, he is to be commended.

I believe that combatting impaired driving is an issue that unites all members in this House, as impaired driving kills and injures more Canadians than any other crime. Every day across Canada, families are devastated by the death or serious injury of a loved one. The pain and suffering caused by this crime makes it essential that we do whatever we can to reduce the incidence of impaired driving. Beyond the obvious social consequences of impaired driving, there is also a substantial financial cost on Canadian society. I note that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, in a 2009 report entitled “Ending Alcohol-Impaired Driving: A Common Approach”, stated:

The average cost of impaired driving crashes in Canada from 1999 to 2006 has been calculated using the Real Dollar Estimate as approximately $1.9 billion per year. This figure is based on money spent, without considering any social costs. The average cost using the Willingness to Pay model is approximately $11.2 billion per year. This model includes money spent and a broad range of social-related costs.

Bill C-590 aims to deter the most dangerous drivers on the road, those with a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, of 0.160 or more. Indeed, the standing committee, in its report, noted:

A study of alcohol use among fatally injured drivers, however, indicates that the bulk of the impaired driving problem lies with those drivers having a BAC over the current Criminal Code BAC limit of 0.08. Among the tested drivers in Canada, 62.9% showed no evidence of alcohol — 37.1% had been drinking, 4.3% had BACs below 0.05, 2.6% had BACs from 0.05 to 0.08, 9.4% had BACs from 0.081 to 0.160 and 20.8% had BACs over 0.160. In other words, 81.5% of fatally injured drinking drivers had BACs over the current limit of 0.08. High-BAC drivers (i.e. those with BACs over 160 mg/100 ml of blood) represent a disproportionate number of fatally injured drinking drivers.

I will repeat that last statistic because it really is quite important: 20.8%, or one in five, of all fatally injured drivers had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.160 or more. Anyone who has such a high BAC has consumed a very significant amount of alcohol. Although it is only an estimate, a BAC calculator on Quebec's Éduc’alcool website says that a 180-pound man has to drink eight bottles of beer in an hour to have a BAC of 0.166.

Accordingly, the standing committee concluded:

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 [of] the offence..., 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 [caught]....

Bill C-590 would take dead aim at those high BAC drivers. The bill would create a new straight indictable offence of driving with a BAC exceeding 0.160, punishable by a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment and a mandatory minimum payment on a first offence of $2,000 plus 60 days' imprisonment, and on a second offence 240 days of imprisonment.

Such high mandatory minimum penalties should cause drivers to give a second thought to how much they are drinking before they get behind the wheel of a car.

Therefore, I urge all members to support higher mandatory minimum penalties for drivers with a blood alcohol concentration over 0.160. Members of the standing committee will, I am sure, want to hear from law enforcement, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, and others regarding whether the proposed new offence and higher mandatory minimum penalties could be made more effective. In particular, there may be an advantage to the over 0.160 offence being a hybrid with penalties on summary conviction that are lower than the penalties on indictment. It is possible that prosecutors will be reluctant to proceed on the over 0.160 charge because of the more onerous procedures on indictment.

Bill C-590 also proposes higher mandatory minimum penalties for an impaired driver who causes bodily harm or death. Currently, subsection 255(3.3) of the Criminal Code provides:

For greater certainty, everyone who is liable to the punishment described in any of subsections (2) to (3.2) is also liable to the minimum punishment described in paragraph (1)(a).

What that means is that the mandatory minimum penalties that apply where there is no death or bodily harm with an offence of impaired driving, driving with a blood alcohol concentration exceeding 0.80, or refusing to provide a breath or blood sample also apply to these offences when there is a death or bodily harm. There is a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offence, 30 days' imprisonment for a second offence, and 120 days for a third offence.

It is obvious that these mandatory minimum penalties are unacceptable in these most serious cases. I understand that the courts do not give out fines in death and bodily injury cases. The purpose of these mandatory minimum penalties, when they were originally adopted, was to prevent the courts from imposing a conditional sentence of imprisonment.

As a result of amendments made in the Safe Streets and Communities Act, conditional sentences are not available where the offence has a maximum of 10 years and resulted in bodily harm. Still, it is theoretically possible for a court to impose a fine or a short period of imprisonment when the offence involves bodily harm or death.

I believe it is appropriate that Parliament indicates to the courts what the starting point should be, but I also believe that these proposed mandatory minimum penalties may not be appropriate in all cases.

Where the bodily harm is relatively minor, for example a broken wrist, 120 days for a first offender is, in my opinion, appropriate. However, there is a danger that we would send the courts the wrong message if we had the same mandatory minimum penalties for both bodily harm and death offences. The courts could conclude that Parliament considers 120 days' imprisonment sufficient for a death. Clearly it is not.

I do not have a view at this time as to what the appropriate minimum should be, but I wish to flag this concern for consideration at the justice committee. I urge all members to support Bill C-590 at second reading. Higher penalties for these offences are long overdue. The standing committee can consider whether improvements on the proposals can be made that the member for Prince Albert has brought forward. He has indicated his willingness to consider those amendments.

For the record, I want to add that there is another reason for a mandatory minimum penalty and that is that justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done. The people of Canada need to know that the justice system is working for them. When they see serious criminal offenders walk away from the courtroom and not go to prison, they lose faith in our justice system. When they lose faith in our justice system, then the justice system does not fulfill the purposes that the Canadian people wish it to. For all those reasons, I urge members in the House to support the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 18th, 2014 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to contribute to the debate on Bill C-590, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content).

Today, in Canada, it is a crime to drive with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. It is a crime under paragraph 253(1)(b) of the Criminal Code. Offenders can be sentenced to 18 months to five years in prison, depending on the nature of the offence.

Bill C-590 seeks to amend section 255 of the Criminal Code to establish more severe penalties for offences committed under section 253. The result of the amendment would be that when the offender has a blood alcohol content that exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or double the legal limit, the offender would be found guilty of an indictable offence.

In 2009, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights examined the issue of drunk driving. Witnesses who appeared before the committee made it clear that impaired driving, which can be caused by alcohol, remains the number one criminal cause of death in Canada. The Canadian Police Association indicated that, despite our collective best efforts and intentions, it is apparent that the problem of impaired driving is worsening in Canada and we are losing ground in our efforts to eliminate the problem.

In light of this, the approach of the member for Prince Albert is a step in the right direction. We will support this bill so that it can be studied in more detail, since we must ensure that these new measures will be effective in putting an end to impaired driving, a problem that costs far too many Canadians their lives each year. Every day in this country, on average, four people die and 175 others are injured in collisions that are directly related to drug- or alcohol-impaired driving.

Other figures back up their statements. Canadian police reported more than 90,000 incidents of impaired driving in Canada in 2011, which is approximately 3,000 more than in 2010. The rate of 260 incidents per 100,000 people was 2% higher than in 2010, the fourth increase in the last five years. Faced with these facts, one cannot help but want to do something to decrease these alarming numbers.

Before we rush into anything, we need to ask the right questions. Will this bill help to eliminate this problem? Is the bill consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada's criminal law? Bill C-590, which was introduced by the member for Prince Albert, seeks to make our roads safer by imposing minimum sentences.

I am worried that these minimum sentences are not the way to go. Generally speaking, minimum sentences become the default sentence, meaning that they could become automatic and may be applied to every offender, no matter how serious the crime. Someone who is caught driving with 161 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood and someone else who is caught with 250 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood could potentially be given the same sentence. The minimum sentence is 60 days for a first offence. We can expect that type of outcome with the amendment set out in Bill C-590.

I would like to raise another point that came to me as I was reading this bill.

The bill amends section 255 of the Criminal Code to create stiffer penalties for the offence set out in section 253 when the offender's blood alcohol content exceeds 160 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. Many families of victims are calling for stiffer penalties for all drinking and driving offences. Why not increase the penalties when the offender's blood alcohol content exceeds 80 milligrams?

Once again, this does not go far enough. This bill is consistent with the Conservative ideology of law and order, the backbone of which is the fight against crime. However, drinking and driving is a problem that must be considered in its entirety, and the discussion around it should not be limited to penalties. We also need to know what effect these amendments will have on the length of sentences.

According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, close to 70% of impaired drivers killed in car accidents have a blood alcohol content that exceeds 100 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. Will this bill lower that percentage?

I have already mentioned the study on alcohol-impaired driving by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which emphasized the need to bolster prevention. I am going to emphasize prevention based on the 2011 Statistics Canada report on impaired driving in Canada. This report reveals that one-half of impaired driving incidents reported by police take place at night, between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., and that the peak is reached after the bars close.

The authorities, police forces and organizations that promote safe driving must continue and even increase their efforts. The goal is not to discourage good drivers and those who are reasonable, but to ensure that every driver always keeps in mind that they must be sober and always vigilant when they get behind the wheel. Drivers have a tendency to be overconfident at 3 a.m.

We must not forget that provincial and territorial road safety laws govern issues related to drivers with a blood alcohol concentration below the allowable limit. Nine out of the 13 provinces and territories impose administrative licence suspensions on drivers with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or lower than 0.05.

In general, provincial and territorial laws are intended as a quick and effective administrative means of reinforcing the Criminal Code sanctions, which are slow to be applied and are not always imposed, even when Criminal Code charges are laid.

Would it not be better to consider a possible amendment to shorten timeframes rather than extend them with sentences and increase fines?

This bill raises many questions. We will support it, but we will focus on the proposed measures to determine if they are a step in the right direction that will effectively address drunk driving.