An Act to amend the Criminal Code (passive detection device)

Sponsor

Gagan Sikand  Liberal

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

Status

Dead, as of April 4, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-247.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to authorize the use by a peace officer of a passive detection device to detect the presence of alcohol in the immediate vicinity of a person whom the officer has reasonable grounds to believe was, within the preceeding three hours, operating a motor vehicle or having the care or control of a motor vehicle. The enactment also provides that if such a device indicates the presence of alcohol, it establishes reasonable grounds to suspect that the person has alcohol in their body.

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.

Votes

Sept. 28, 2016 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 4th, 2017 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate today on Bill S-230. I would like to thank the leader of the opposition in the Senate for crafting this bill and shepherding it through the Senate, and also the member for Richmond—Arthabaska for bringing it forward in this House.

As the NDP critic for justice and the Attorney General, I have recommended to my caucus that we support this bill so that it can get further study at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I also appreciate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice for his remarks tonight. It is indeed heartening to all members in this House to see that with the government's plans for legalization and regulation of marijuana, there is a comprehensive approach forthcoming.

When this bill was brought forward and introduced to members in this House, it was accompanied by an extensive handout. I have recommended that we support this bill because I believe that we need to do everything we can to ensure Canadians are safe on the road. The statistics that were provided in that handout are quite illuminating. Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada found that there were 614 road fatalities in 2012 in which drivers had drugs present in their body, compared to 476 fatalities in which alcohol was present. Therefore, there is an obvious need for this.

That said, there are stakeholders who have been consulted on this bill, and some of them do have issues with it. We have heard from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, who support the principle of the bill, but they have looked at all of the different pieces of legislation that deal with this subject matter and they would rather see it combined into a coherent government strategy.

It is quite a coincidence that for the second private member's bill that we are debating tonight, Bill C-247, which dealt with passive detection devices, one of the recommendations was that the government needs to take a leading role to make sure that the Department of Justice and its resources are fully involved. When we look at the various private member's bills that deal with these issues, sometimes I think they concentrate on fixing individual trees rather than looking at the whole forest. That is one issue to take note of.

Of course, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, as I referenced in my question for the hon. member, has stated that there are problems. The organization would like to come to the parliamentary committee, but it believes that a piecemeal approach to this issue is not the way to move forward.

One of the issues in the bill is with the fact that there is no mention of a per se limit on THC. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice made mention of that. It is unclear as to how much THC, or indeed any kind of drugs, in a person's blood would need to be found to fine for impairment.

As was mentioned, cocaine is of course illegal to possess. We still do not know what the amounts are of that drug or of THC that can cause legal impairment as per the Criminal Code. I can compare it to blood alcohol content, just to explain for members what the per se limit is. Blood alcohol content of 0.05% or 0.08%, depending on the jurisdiction, is enough to move to prohibitions and to punishment.

It is important to stop impaired driving, but we want to make sure that have a clear definition of the amounts that constitute impairment. Different people of different weights will synthesize drugs in a different way, so we need to really lock down what that basic amount is that causes impairment.

We have been talking about the need for a comprehensive strategy. I am sure we will get new news on that in the following week, but one thing that we can point to is the extensively quoted Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation and the report that it issued.

The task force recommended many of the steps that I feel this bill does not cover, among them investing immediately and working with the provinces and territories to develop a national comprehensive public education strategy to send a clear message to Canadians that cannabis causes impairment, and that the best way to avoid driving impaired is simply not to consume beforehand. It also recommended investing in research to better link THC levels with impairment and crash risk to support the development of a per se limit.

It recommended to determine whether to establish a per se limit as a part of a comprehensive approach to cannabis-impaired driving, acting on the findings of the DDC; re-examine per se limits should a reliable correlation between THC levels and impairment be established; support the development of appropriate roadside drug screening device for detecting THC levels and invest in these tools; and finally, invest in baseline data collection and ongoing surveillance in evaluation and collaboration with the provinces and territories.

We are happy the comprehensive strategy will be developed in conjunction with the rollout of regulation and legalization of cannabis. Ultimately what Canadians primarily think that their members of Parliament should be doing is looking at ensuring public safety is a big part of our regulations and the laws that we develop, especially when something as revolutionary as cannabis legalization in Canada has a long history of prohibition and punishment. This will be quite a change for Canadian society. We want to ensure that is rolled out in a responsible manner and that we also look at the dangers to drug-impaired driving.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse states in its 2016 report that we must implement per se drug laws for certain substances as a part of that comprehensive approach to drug impaired driving. As was made mention, this includes the enhanced training of all police officers in the recognition of the signs and symptoms of drug use, a strong drug evaluation and classification program, and the implementation of a roadside oral fluid drug screening.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse from the United States states “that drivers with THC in their blood were roughly twice as likely to be culpable for a fatal crash”. However, THC can be detected in body fluids for days or even weeks after intoxication.

We do not want to get into that situation where someone has consumed something on a Friday and by Monday, he or she is no longer impaired. However, if it is still detected in a person's body, that is why it is so important to establish what the exact limits are, the exact amounts that cause that impairment.

With these facts in mind, we are glad a comprehensive program and approach to this problem will be rolled out so we do not miss the mark.

I have encouraged my caucus to support the bill. I believe, in principle, that it does deserve further study at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, just simply for the fact that impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada. It causes the death of more than 1,200 Canadians per year.

When it comes to supporting a bill that has this in mind, the principle of the bill, I will lend my support behind that. I hope all members will do the same.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 4th, 2017 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Gagan Sikand Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to once again have the opportunity to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-247.

Although I respect and appreciate the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I must say I am disappointed by their report.

It is clear that impaired driving is a serious problem in Canada. Sadly, we are reminded of this much too frequently. This past holiday season, the Peel Regional Police, the police force that is tasked with keeping my riding safe, caught more than 400 impaired drivers between November 15 and January 2.

The current laws that we have in place to address impaired driving are ineffective and do not serve as a deterrent, as many Canadians continue to drive under the influence of alcohol. Survey data and criminal justice statistics indicate that on average, a person can drive impaired once a week for more than three years before being charged with an impaired driving offence. This is unacceptable and demonstrates the need to increase deterrent measures for impaired driving.

Despite what is included in the committee's report, I strongly believe that legislating passive alcohol sensors is an effective means of improving deterrent measures.

Currently, Canadian police forces rely on their own unaided senses to determine whether they have the legal grounds to administer a roadside sobriety test. They rely on observations such as an odour of alcohol, a flushed face, and slurred speech.

At sobriety checkpoints where the majority of these interactions between a peace officer and driver take place, police are under immense pressure to speed up the process in order to prevent impeding traffic. It may be difficult for an officer to detect some of these characteristics. This increases the potential for impaired drivers to go undetected.

Passive alcohol sensors would enhance the officer's ability to detect impaired drivers. Although the committee was skeptical of this claim, research has proven it to be true. Referring back to an academic study, it indicated that in comparison to sobriety checkpoints where passive alcohol sensors were not used, sobriety checkpoints with passive alcohol sensors had an 88% higher detection rate.

In their report the committee stated:

...the costs of introducing such devices and the time and resources required for developing the appropriate testing mechanisms for them outweigh the potential benefits.

Let me just say that one more time: “The costs of introducing such devices and the time and resources required for developing the appropriate testing mechanisms for them outweigh the potential benefits”.

Now please allow me to quote a July 2016 article in which the National Post reported:

Despite years of public messaging about the dangers of drinking and driving, Canada ranks No. 1 among 19 wealthy countries for percentage of roadway deaths linked to alcohol impairment....

The finding by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control should serve as a warning to lawmakers that new strategies are needed to combat impaired driving, which remains the top criminal cause of death in Canada....

I will move to the second part of Bill C-247, which proposes to amend subsections 255(3) and 255(3.1) of the Criminal Code by changing the wording in “impaired driving causing death” and “blood alcohol level over legal limit — death” by inserting “vehicular homicide as a result of impairment”. I was disappointed to see that the committee did not address this portion of the bill in its report.

As I have mentioned in my previous speeches, what inspired me to present this bill was a local high school teacher in my riding who lost his life while out on a bicycle ride.

Throughout my time conducting research for Bill C-247, I came across Canadians from coast to coast to coast who shared their story on how impaired driving had impacted their lives. While I was doing this, I came in contact with an organization called Families for Justice led by a woman named Markita Kaulius. Markita created Families for Justice shortly after the death of her daughter Kassandra, who was killed by a drunk driver while driving home from a baseball game.

The organization provides support for families who have been victims of impaired driving. In addition to this, Families for Justice is an advocate for government initiatives to prevent impaired driving. I was glad that Markita was given the opportunity to testify before the committee and share her story.

Sadly, every year the number of families that join Families for Justice grows unacceptably. With every family that contacts Markita to join her cause, she is reminded of her beautiful young daughter who had her entire life ahead of her. She was engaged to be married, was in school to be a teacher, and had her whole life ahead of her, which was carelessly taken away by a driver who decided to drive after consuming alcohol.

Through working with Markita, I also got to know a woman by the name of Sheri who had her own devastating experience with impaired driving, which led to the loss of her son Brad. For Markita and Sheri, one of the most difficult aspects of these tragic events is the sentences that were given to the people who took their children from them. The driver in Kassandra's death was released from custody after only two years of her three-year sentence. The driver in Brad's case will be eligible for full parole later this month, two years and eight months into his eight-year sentence.

The danger of impaired driving is not a new phenomenon. It is common knowledge that when people drive after consuming alcohol, they are putting everyone else around them at risk. It is for this reason that I feel it is time to call this horrific crime what it truly is, and that is a homicide. It is time that our government changed our Criminal Code to better reflect the impact these crimes have on the lives of their victims.

For Markita, Sheri, and the family of the teacher from my riding, the connotation of the offenders' actions should be on par with the amount of suffering they have gone through. These families view these crimes as homicides, and it is about time we do as well.

While the justice and human rights committee has recommended that the House not proceed further with this bill, I want to call on all members and our government to implement legislation to address impaired driving. As years go by, more families like Markita's and Sheri's go through the same devastating tragedy. We as a government have a responsibility to all Canadians to address this very serious issue.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 4th, 2017 / 7:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-247, a private member's bill introduced by the member of Parliament for Mississauga—Streetsville. On February 7, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights decided unanimously to recommend that the House of Commons not proceed further with the bill. I am here today to speak further to that decision as the vice-chair of that committee.

Bill C-247 is seeking to amend section 254 of the Criminal Code to allow police officers to use an approved passive detection device to sample the ambient air in the immediate vicinity of a person they have reasonable grounds to believe is impaired. This would be in advance of the police officer taking a sample using an approved screening device. The bill is also seeking to amend subsections 255(3) and 255(3.1) of the code, which would change the offence of impaired driving causing death to vehicular homicide as a result of impairment.

The purpose of this bill is to act as a further deterrent for drunk drivers and to increase apprehension rates, as a positive reading would provide reasonable grounds to conduct a breath test on an approved screening device, ASD. It has been referred to as a device that would act as an extension of the officer's nose.

I thank the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for putting forward a bill with such commendable objectives. Certainly all of us in this chamber can agree that we should do everything we can to keep Canadians safe and keep drunk drivers off of roads. In politics we disagree on a great deal of things, but I think this is one area where we all share a common goal that extends across all party lines. The intent of Bill C-247 is noble, but on further investigation with the help of expert testimony in the justice and human rights committee, we uncovered some issues in the bill that brought us to unanimously recommend that the House not proceed further with the bill.

Some of the most compelling evidence we came across was introduced by Dr. Daryl Mayers, who testified as chair of the alcohol test committee, known as the ATC, of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science. The ATC, the alcohol test committee, has provided advice to the Ministry of Justice about detection and quantification of blood alcohol concentrations for the past 50 years. We learned that the introduction of a passive detection device would need to be tested against the ATC's published standards to determine if it is appropriate to be used in Canadian alcohol testing. This would be costly in both time and resources and, as Dr. Mayers testified, would stretch the ATC's resources well past the breaking point.

The chair of the alcohol test committee brought to our attention concerns regarding the nature of these devices. Because they test ambient air for alcohol molecules, they are subject to numerous environmental factors. These devices are unlike ASDs in that ASDs require a deep-lung air sample. They are also administered away from others and from traffic and in a police vehicle, where environmental conditions are understood and controlled. For example, the dissemination of alcohol molecules through different sizes of cars will be different. The use of a passive device would necessarily introduce elements beyond the control of law enforcement.

There are other environmental factors that could result in an incorrect response from a passive device. Open alcohol in the vicinity or an intoxicated passenger could alter results. We also discovered that methanol in windshield wiper fluid could contribute to a positive result. The recent use of mouthwash could result in a false positive; whereas, a person chewing gum, which increases salivation and diminishes mouth alcohol, could result in a false negative. In our study of Bill C-247, it was unclear whether a response on a passive device indicating no alcohol was present would render the officer unable to investigate further.

Another consideration which is especially relevant here in Canada is that the weather could affect the results of a passive detection device. It has been noted that these devices are less effective in windy conditions. Dr. Mayers also indicated that he would recommend devices that use fuel cell technology as a mechanism for detecting alcohol. We learned, however, that fuel cells can be affected by cold weather and can cause a false negative. Here in Canada we experience extremes in weather conditions and these vary dramatically from coast to coast to coast. The development of region-specific recommendations for calibration, training, and operational procedures would be onerous, to say the least, for the volunteer-led alcohol test committee.

Our committee also questioned the invasiveness of the passive devices. There are many versions of these devices on the market, and while some recommend a distance of six inches between the device and the driver, some recommend as few as two inches. The close proximity between the device and a driver could be seen as quite invasive and consequently negates the subtleness intended in the administration of such a device.

These are all potential intervening factors that arose during the study of Bill C-247, and left us questioning the effectiveness of passive detection devices. We learned that for the alcohol test committee to test new products against the ATC's published standards, to account for all the factors discussed previously, and to develop region-specific recommendations for calibration, training, and operational procedure would be substantial. Even if the committee were provided additional resources, it would still be a lengthy process, and the alcohol test committee would likely need to hire and consult numerous engineers throughout the process.

We also need to consider the capacity for human error in the administration of these devices. Dr. Daryl Mayers said the following before committee:

My experience with police officers, and I mean no disrespect, is that if you give officers a tool with all kinds of caveats attached to it—you have to do it this way, that way, make sure the wind isn't blowing, have your back to the wind, make sure you don't have the window open, check the car for spills—and you expect the officer to do [it] in a very rapid time frame, the more likely it is that one step or two steps will be missed, and that is a very serious thing once we come to litigate that case.

Dr. Mayers also brought to the attention of the committee the possibility of litigation arising from a false positive. The burden of lengthy and complicated litigation cannot be underscored.

I believe this legislation was introduced in an effort to provide law enforcement with additional tools to get more drunk drivers off the road. However, I fear that because of numerous factors that could affect the device, it would actually complicate matters for law enforcement and litigators. I think it is possible, if not likely, that adding this layer could result in even trickier litigation, and potentially result in less drunk driving convictions. I also think a false negative, whether caused by the wind or a stick of gum, could allow for the potential of an impaired person to avoid detection.

In addition, we heard from a Department of Justice official who confirmed that the present threshold for use of an approved screening device is very low. The threshold is simply suspicion of alcohol in a driver's body. That is the way we do things today. That suspicion could be arrived at through things like alcohol odour, glassy eyes, fumbling with documentation, and the like.

It was also confirmed that nothing presently prohibits an officer from using a passive alcohol sensor. In fact, the RCMP is already in possession of such a device. We never heard whether or not RCMP officers use the device regularly, but we know nothing prevents them from doing so.

I believe that as parliamentarians we need to do whatever we can as legislators to protect Canadians from impaired drivers. However, after the study of Bill C-247, I consider the costs and potential litigation complexity to outweigh the potential benefits. In fact, I think there is reason enough to believe that this bill could work against its very objectives. For these reasons, I suggest that the House not proceed further with this bill.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 4th, 2017 / 7:30 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to join in this debate on the justice committee's recommendation to the House. I do so as the second vice-chair of that committee. Before I start, I would like to commend the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville because I believe his intent behind the bill was very noble.

Bill C-247 was designed to allow police officers to use passive ambient air alcohol detection devices to basically detect alcohol in the air near a driver's mouth during roadside sobriety checks. The detection of alcohol by the sensor would then provide officers with reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver had consumed alcohol and allow them to then request a Breathalyzer test to check for impairment.

I was not on the committee when it was deliberating on the bill. There were two committee meetings on October 18 and October 20, and I was preceded by the hon. member for Victoria who was then a member of that committee. The bill was referred to committee on September 28, before those two meetings.

We fundamentally believe that we need to support effective measures against impaired driving, because each and every year we lose far too many lives in Canada, and indeed, as has been mentioned many times in this place, it is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. The proposed devices in the bill would have several benefits if they were to show that they could work as effectively as the claims say.

The committee has made a recommendation to the House of Commons, and while the committee felt that the intent behind Bill C-247 was commendable, the committee concluded that based on the evidence gathered during its study, the costs of introducing such devices and the time and resources required for developing the appropriate testing mechanisms outweighed the potential benefits. We feel strongly that the government needs to consider taking this on with the resources of the Department of Justice and introducing legislation on this topic at the earliest opportunity.

We had a chance to talk to stakeholders. Law enforcement has suggested that, if this device were effective, it could be a potentially useful addition to the tool kit, but it is certainly not the one that is most urgently needed. Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, which was supportive of the use of effective devices, wanted Parliament to make sure that we did not displace the more pressing questions of how to effectively deter impaired drivers and detect drug impairment.

During the witness testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, some of the witnesses clarified the issues that these detection devices have. Of particular note, it was the chair for the Alcohol Test Committee who stated that the bill asks us to enact legislation using approved passive detection devices. If we enact the bill now, it requires the Alcohol Test Committee to develop standards and procedures for the evaluations.

We would have to perform evaluations on the new equipment proposed as passive devices, and we would have to develop operational recommendations. We would need best practices relating to the maintenance and use of these devices, and this means that the scientific aspect of the approval process would be extremely costly in both time and resources. The potential influx of numerous new devices seeking approval as passive detection devices would stretch its current resources past the breaking point. Even after this approval process was finally finished, there would still need to be recommendations from individual forensic laboratories to create region-specific recommendations for calibration, training, and operational procedures.

Even the introduction of a newly approved instrument can be challenging in and for our courts. The introduction of a novel type of testing with completely unfamiliar devices would undoubtedly be the subject of lengthy litigation involving scientific staff from all the forensic laboratories across the country.

We know from questions that have been raised in the House and from media reports and indeed from across the country that the court system is already quite burdened and quite strained.

There are already serious criminal charges that are either being stayed or withdrawn in the wake of the Jordan decision, which has fundamentally altered the legal landscape. It is something that I hope the federal government and our provincial governments finally take note of and put in the resources that we need in the system.

We want to stop impaired driving, but we do not want to do it at the expense of clogging the very judicial system that is meant to operate efficiently to make sure we are actually delivering justice for those who do harm. If we are going to burden the justice system with even more litigation against devices, that is not going to solve the main problem. Defence lawyers would probably have a field day challenging these devices because of their reliability.

We look at the climate issues, because that was one of the main things that was brought forward in witness testimony. Canada is a country that is affected by cold temperatures and humidity in the winter. Unfortunately, I live in a section of the country that is certainly affected by the humidity, Vancouver Island. It is not known just as the west coast, but indeed the wet coast.

The testimony indicated that the devices may not be appropriate for our climate. We can go to the testimony of Dr. Daryl Mayers, the chair of the Alcohol Test Committee, who laid it out completely for all of us. If the weather is windy, excessively damp, or even below 8° Celsius, the reliability of these passive detection devices is brought into question. The Winnipeg police department did a test in the early 2000s that found that these devices did not work very effectively in the winter. Devices whose function is inhibited in either cold weather or by excessive amounts of precipitation in the air are simply too problematic for us to go forward, and we certainly need a lot more study to make sure these devices can actually do what they are supposed to do.

In light of these findings, I do agree with the committee's report that we need a comprehensive solution to this problem and that the government should consider introducing legislation on this topic at the earliest opportunity.

I would like to compliment the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, because I believe his intent was noble. He really does want to do the right thing, but we had a unanimously backed recommendation that we not proceed with this bill. There are Liberals, Conservatives, and our NDP member on committee. We listened to the evidence, and I agree with that report. I hope all hon. members will pay attention to the hard work that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights did.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 4th, 2017 / 7:35 p.m.
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Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to rise and speak to the motion concerning Bill C-247, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding passive detection devices. The motion proposes to accept the recent report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that Bill C-247 not proceed further. Although I applaud and agree with the intent of Bill C-247, I want to advise the House that I intend to vote in support of the motion.

In particular, I agree with the concerns expressed by the standing committee that the bill may not achieve its intended effect, and I will not go over the very comprehensive explanation provided by my colleagues on the opposite side of the House. I also want to advise the House that the standing committee, as part of its report, recommended that the government ensure that there be a comprehensive solution to the issues under consideration and that the government should therefore consider introducing legislation to provide for that comprehensive response to the issue of impaired driving. I share this view.

Our government is best placed to consider all of the challenges with the legal framework surrounding the investigation of impaired driving. That is why the Minister of Justice intends to introduce new comprehensive legislation this spring, which will carefully address both drug- and alcohol-impaired driving. The new legislation will take a thorough and strategic approach, having regard to the minister's overall mandate with respect to criminal justice reform. In this way, our government is working to keep our communities safe, protect victims, and hold offenders to account. I very sincerely look forward to working with the members on the justice committee as we go forward with this important work. We all agree that we have a responsibility in the House to do everything possible to keep our communities safe and to protect our citizens.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the member for bringing this important issue forward. I would like to thank the standing committee for its thoughtful consideration of this bill. The members of the committee invested extensively of their time, attention, and expertise in considering the merits of the proposed bill, and I am grateful to them for their efforts.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to the witnesses who appeared before the standing committee who shared their experience and expertise, and in particular those witnesses who spoke about their personal experience with the devastating impact of impaired driving. I want to thank them for their courage and their support.

Criminal Code (passive detection device)Private Members' Business

September 21st, 2016 / 6:45 p.m.
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NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to address Bill C-247, a bill that would add ambient air alcohol sensors to the arsenal of tools that our police officers use to detect impaired drivers and to keep our roads safe. All of us in the House have lost far too many friends and others in our communities to impaired driving. As a country we have been losing ground in this fight for over a decade.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimates that impaired driving kills three to four Canadians every day. It also injures 175 more each day. That is more than 1,000 Canadians killed each year and more than 60,000 injured. As shocking as these statistics are, I know each of us in the House also knows, in our own communities, at least one story that puts a face on these tragic numbers.

For example, early one morning last April in the greater Victoria area, an impaired driver got behind the wheel of his pickup truck. He was speeding through an intersection when he struck a police cruiser driven by Constable Sarah Beckett. Having joined the RCMP at age 21, Constable Beckett was just 32 when she died last year leaving behind a husband and two young children.

Charges were filed against the driver last week, and I hope that justice will be served. While we know that nothing can make Constable Beckett's young family whole again, we must do everything to prevent the next tragedy, and that means deterring the next impaired driver from getting behind the wheel. Today's bill offers police one more tool with which to do that.

As it stands today in the Criminal Code, officers must have “reasonable grounds to suspect that the person has alcohol in their body” before they can demand a breath sample. That suspicion can be formed in many ways, from the smell of alcohol to slurred speech, or simply by an admission from the driver. The front line officers I have spoken with are good at their job, but they know that impaired drivers still slip through, and the research bears this out.

A 1999 study in the United States found that officers there missed 9 out of 10 drivers in the range from 0.05 to 0.08. That is high enough for roadside penalties in most Canadian provinces. That same study found that officers still missed half of the drivers over the criminal limit of 0.08 blood alcohol content. Detection rates have improved over the last 15 years and I, for one, tend to believe that Canadian police would outscore their American counterparts, but still a 2009 study by our Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights concluded as follows:

—current methods of enforcing the law lead police officers to apprehend only a small percentage of impaired drivers, even at roadside traffic stops designed to detect impaired driving.

One solution proposed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and used in other jurisdictions is to provide officers with passive or ambient air alcohol sensors to help them screen for impairment. There are benefits beyond just increasing the detection at roadside checkpoints. As we know from other debates on this issue, the evidence on what makes an effective deterrent is clear.

What deters the next impaired driver, what saves lives is not the fear of a crash or a jail sentence or getting caught, instead it is the perceived risk of being pulled over. The publicity surrounding the introduction of a new tool to detect impairment will no doubt increase that perceived risk of detection, and may make some people think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking.

The front line officers I have spoken to, in Victoria, Ottawa, and elsewhere, have insights that deserve to be heard by Parliament as we study this bill. Four to five million drivers are stopped each year. Less than 1% of those give breath samples, but each test creates delays for drivers and risks for officers. In the winter, drivers are sometimes asked to exit their vehicle, so that the test can be done inside a police vehicle. Police are rightly concerned about the safety of drivers when these tests occur on the shoulder of a busy road.

In other words, any tool that can increase the detection rate and reduce false positives not only has the potential to deter impaired drivers and save lives but also has the potential to make roadside stops safer and more streamlined for drivers and officers alike. With that in mind, I find it difficult to argue against dedicating time at committee to study this bill in more detail.

There are questions about police resources, questions about the accuracy of these new sensors, and of course, questions about whether the use of this new tool might be challenged under section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These are important questions that deserve further discussion and study. Therefore, I am pleased to support this bill now, in principle, and hope that the appropriate committee will soon be able to give it the study it deserves.

I feel compelled to say, as I did when we debated a related proposal from my hon. colleagues in the Conservative Party, that there is a tremendous need for action on this file on the government side of the House.

Successive federal governments increased the penalties for impaired driving offences in 1985, 1999, 2000, and 2008. At first, stiffer penalties sharply reduced the rate of impaired driving offences. However, progress has been stalled since 2000, despite two rounds of increased penalties.

Six years ago, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights completed its study on impaired driving. It showed that in 2006, the latest year for which data was then available, more Canadians were killed by impaired driving than in any year since 1998, and it was the third consecutive annual increase in fatalities.

That report stated as follows:

...impaired driving remains the number one criminal cause of death in Canada....

...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.

Those words remain equally true today.

More recent data available to us now shows that the problem continued to worsen after 2009.

Using data up to 2011, Statistics Canada reported this:

The rate of impaired driving increased for the fourth time in five years...and was at its highest point in a decade.

The evidence is clear. We need more than just harsher penalties. We need an approach that is evidence-based and focused on prevention, on saving lives. This means better training and support for our police officers. It means smarter investigative tools so that families are not denied justice by a technicality. It means taking a clear-eyed look at which penalties work and which ones do not. It means collaboration between the federal government and the provinces and territories on public education and best practices, and it means assessing the latest technology to detect drug-impaired driving.

We have been losing ground for a decade in the fight to end impaired driving. We have lost far too many lives in our communities, and we urgently need real action from the federal government. I hope that action is forthcoming.

Let me assure those on the government benches that when their plan is brought to Parliament, they will always find support and help from New Democrats. However, as we await government action on the fight to end impaired driving, I am happy to support further study of this proposal from my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville. I want to thank him for his work on it, and I look forward to seeing the results of committee consultations very soon.

Criminal Code (passive detection device)Private Members' Business

September 21st, 2016 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec

Liberal

Peter Schiefke LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Youth)

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak in favour of Bill C-247. Impaired driving is an issue that affects all communities.

I am sure all members, on both sides of the House, know of a neighbour, family member, or one of their constituents who has been affected by a tragedy caused by impaired driving.

As I rise and address the House today, I am thinking of the hundreds of stories involving impaired drivers who caused accidents that killed or seriously injured someone in my riding.

I cannot help but support a bill whose aim is to prevent impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel, a bill that recognizes the moral responsibility of drivers when they are facing justice.

It is a complex bill that I believe merits the attention of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, for it is important to take the time to understand all the implications associated with this change to the Criminal Code. This is an important step in putting an end to drunk driving. While the bill may not be perfect in its present form, its objective deserves to be examined in committee.

Under the current legislation, the Criminal Code does not grant the police the authority to obtain bodily samples from drivers unless the police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a driver has alcohol in their body. A passive detection device can detect alcohol in the ambient air, which would allow officers to use a non-invasive procedure to test for the presence of alcohol by simply placing the device near the driver's face when he or she is talking or breathing.

I am hopeful that this new method could not only empower police officers to better identify impaired drivers but would also have a deterrent effect and play a major role by reducing the number of drunk drivers that are choosing to take to the wheel night after night despite the laws and deterrents that are already in place.

My riding of Vaudreuil—Soulanges is one of the fastest growing ridings in the country in large part because of the thousands of young families choosing to settle in the peaceful and safe environment that it offers. Even so, the roads our children play on, put their basketball nets on, play street hockey on, and use to ride their skateboards and their bicycles are still filled with those who make the decision to take the wheel while under the influence of alcohol. As such, I strongly support the principle behind a bill that would empower police officers to make our streets safer for our children through a non-invasive procedure.

This does not only apply to my own community. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister for Youth, I am particularly aware of the shocking number of young victims of road accidents across the country that are caused by drunk drivers. There are far too many unfortunately to recount here today but I can tell the House this. In my own riding I have in mind for example a young jogger who was struck by an alleged drunk driver in the municipality of Hudson in the summer of 2015. The driver of the car was only 23 years old. The victim was in some respects lucky, because she survived. Even though she survived and she shared her story as a warning to other young people, she has had to endure 15 operations to date and could be waiting years before getting the hip replacement that she needs to continue her progress. She currently uses crutches to walk and has since had to abandon her dream of becoming a police officer. The driver of the car is facing multiple criminal charges.

Examples like this show why we need more deterrents. The deterrent effect of the detection device as proposed in Bill C-247 could have prevented this accident, because as long as impaired drivers believe that there is still a chance they will not get caught they will continue to take a chance, get behind the wheel, and risk their own safety and the safety of other drivers and pedestrians.

As a result of a successful public awareness campaign, it is clear that most, if not all, drivers know that it is against the law to drive under the influence of alcohol.

Progress has been made in the past 30 years as a result of better laws, harsher penalties, enforcement measures, and awareness campaigns launched by Éduc'alcool, Operation Red Nose, and the Call 911 campaign run by Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada.

Despite these initiatives, drivers continue to get behind the wheel. In the the Vaudreuil—Soulanges RCM alone, more than 340 drunk driving incidents are reported annually. Every year, between 1,250 and 1,500 people are killed and more than 63,000 people are injured in collisions caused by impaired driving. This means that alcohol and drugs are responsible for 43% of all injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents.

According to MADD Canada, impaired driving causes almost twice as many deaths as all other homicides combined. Deaths and injuries resulting frm impaired driving are even more tragic because they are caused by a crime that is completely preventable. Why do so many drivers drive under the influence of alcohol? That is a good question. They know that they will not be caught.

Bill C-247 is largely supported by stakeholders across the country, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, which has endorsed Bill C-247, citing the benefits of passive alcohol sensors.

Also, according to the 2009 report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, “although the threshold for suspicion is not high, there is research indicating that many impaired drivers are able to avoid a demand for a breath test when stopped by the police because the officer does not detect the smell of alcohol or symptoms of impairment”. This goes to show that despite the initiatives and the progress achieved in the last decade, the ability for police to use passive alcohol sensors could have a great impact on reducing the number of alcohol-impaired drivers on our roadways.

Bill C-247 also renames the offence of impaired driving causing death as vehicular homicide. This change would denote greater moral culpability for the impaired driver. A conviction should reflect the risks that accompany the decision to get behind the wheel, while preserving judicial discretion for judges. Because of this, this bill needs to go to committee. That is why I support the passing of the bill: to place it in the committee's capable hands. I hope everyone can support this. I recognize the need for the committee to assess the practical implications of this change to the law to ensure that the bill achieves its policy goals and to ensure clarity in the Criminal Code.

I believe that an initiative that would increase the safety of our roads through a non-invasive procedure should move forward. I support moving Bill C-247 to committee in order to address the scope of the law and ensure we have not only concrete laws against impaired driving, but also practical and effective ways of implementing those laws.

The adoption of Bill C-247 represents that important step in making our roads safer for our communities. This is an objective that every person in the House should be behind and should make a priority.

Criminal Code (passive detection device)Private Members' Business

September 21st, 2016 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Peter Fonseca Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, my colleague and my friend, for his advocacy in the community and his advocacy around community safety and road safety.

We have come a long way in Canada since 1921. That is when Canada first recognized impaired driving as a criminal act. Despite a sizable drop in impaired driving rates since the mid-1980s, impaired driving is still the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. Impaired driving continues to be a problem for governments and for communities and that is why we have a multi-pronged approach that has brought forward our justice system, community organizations, and the general public.

Through education, awareness, enforcement, and penalties, we have made great strides. The number of impairment incidents from 1985 have dropped significantly, by over 50%. In 1985 there were approximately 600 incidents per 100,000 of population. They dropped to less than 300 impairment incidents per 100,000 twenty years later. However, today, what we are seeing is that the rate of incidents is starting to grow. We need to have a new approach. It has to come from community organizations such as MADD, and I am glad that it is supporting this bill, Bill C-247, the passive detection device bill. These deterrents have been able to bring the rates down, and now it is up to us as a government to enact legislation that will help continue that trend.

The alarming fact, though, is that to see those rates start to decline we need to do something. We have some evidence that rates are starting to climb, especially with young women, and many of those rates continue to be in our 20- to 35-year-old grouping.

Young people have come a long way. Today, I know here in Ontario we have graduated licences so that as drivers become better drivers and have more education, they are able to make better judgment calls. One thing, though, for young people or anybody who has been out drinking or had a drink or two and who may make the poor judgment of getting behind the wheel, is the deterrent factor. It is knowing when they go out that there may be a RIDE program in place.

In the RIDE program, when drivers are pulled over the police officer will ask where they have been and whether they have had a drink or two. Many people have been to events and they say they will just take some breath mints or ensure they just use some freshener in the car to disguise the smell of alcohol. However, the passive detection device would make it much easier for police to detect whether there is alcohol in the car and be able to then move forward to doing a Breathalyzer test or to look for impairment. It will help the police with their jobs, but it is also a deterrent. When that awareness is there, those people out having a drink are able to make the right decision and not get behind the wheel of a car and drive.

The devastation has just been terrible. I know that many of us in our communities have spoken with families and friends and others who have been affected by people who have been seriously injured or lost his or her life in a car crash. This is just devastating. We have to think about it. Young people have to know how they can be affected by jail time, the heavy fines, a suspended licence, having an ignition interlock device put on their cars—all of these things. However, none of that really matters to the life that they will have to lead going forward if they have caused a serious injury or death, knowing that they were the cause.

I am so glad that the hon. member has brought forward the proposal of renaming the offence from “impaired driving causing death” to “vehicular homicide as a result of impairment”.

The average car weighs about 4,000 pounds. That is a weapon. It is four thousand pounds on the road, travelling at 50, 60, 120, or 150 kilometres an hour. When that hits a person, it is a weapon. That is homicide. That will create a great deal of devastation in the community for so many people, so many families. I am so glad the member would like to have the name changed through his bill, Bill C-247. His advocacy will make a real difference in our country.

As I said, we have a commendable record. We have seen those rates drop. Now they have plateaued and have started to go up. We need a renewed initiative. Bill C-247 will help as a deterrent to bring those rates back down even more, because one death or one serious injury is just one too many.

I will be supporting Bill C-247. I want to see it go to committee so we can have a robust discussion and get into the meat of it so that we can do much better for our communities.

Again, I want to commend the member for all his hard work and advocacy for what it will mean for our communities, not only today but for many years to come.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2016 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Gagan Sikand Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

moved that Bill C-247, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (passive detection device), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-247. If passed, Bill C-247 will prevent injuries and deaths from impaired driving, which continues to cause needless and heartbreaking tragedies in communities across Canada. Specifically, Bill C-247 will increase deterrence and rates of apprehension by allowing the use of passive alcohol sensors at roadside screenings for impaired drivers. I will explain the details of that proposal shortly.

In addition, Bill C-247 would rename the crime of “impaired driving causing death” to “vehicular homicide” as a result of impairment. That change would denote greater moral responsibility for the crime of impaired driving, while preserving judicial discretion to tailor sentences to particular circumstances.

The change is based on a proposal called Kassandra's law that was brought forward in 2015 by the Conservative member for Langley—Aldergrove. I am grateful that he has seconded Bill C-247 and I am pleased that we can work together across party lines to prevent drunk driving for the benefit of all Canadians.

Impaired driving has touched constituents in every riding across the country. My riding of Mississauga—Streetsville is no exception. Last year during the summer, my constituents lost a local leader, educator, mentor, and most importantly a father and a husband. Out of respect for the family, I will refrain from using his name.

Sadly, one night during July of 2015, while riding his bicycle, he was struck from behind by an impaired driver and pronounced dead at the scene. As a secondary school teacher, he spent years dedicating his time to educating and inspiring youth within my riding. His former students and those who knew him conveyed to me what a positive impact he made on those around him. I understand that he inspired many of his students to pursue post-secondary education.

Tragically his life was cut short by an intoxicated driver, someone who chose to put lives at risk rather than call a cab. His death denied five children their father, denied a wife her husband, denied students their teacher, and denied future young people a mentor who could have helped them make positive choices in life.

Soon after being elected, I received an email from a constituent who was greatly saddened by what had happened and also concerned that such senseless tragedies continued to occur at alarming rates in our country. She implored me to take action, and I am now doing so with Bill C-247.

As I said, if passed, the bill will prevent injuries and deaths from impaired driving. It will do this with two measures to increase deterrence and rates of apprehension. The first measure authorizes the use of passive alcohol sensors at roadside screenings for impaired drivers. What would this change mean?

Currently law enforcement in Canada conducts organized stops at check points to screen drivers for impairment. For example, Ontario conducts a program called reduce impaired driving everywhere, RIDE. When stopping drivers, officers apply breath tests if they, through odour or appearance, reasonably suspect a driver has consumed alcohol. However, according to a 2009 report of the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, only a small fraction of impaired drivers are currently apprehended.

Bill C-247 would increase apprehension and deterrence by authorizing the use of passive alcohol sensors by police at organized stops, or when they had reasonable grounds to make a stop for suspected impairment. Passive alcohol sensors detect alcohol when placed near a driver's face. A positive reading would provide reasonable grounds to conduct a breath test on an approved screening device.

I am confident that the use of passive alcohol sensors at organized roadside screenings will be charter compliant. I say this because, in its decision in Dedman v. The Queen, the Supreme Court held that the somewhat random searches in Ontario's RIDE program were constitutional because driving was a “licensed activity that is subject to regulation and control for the protection of life and property.” The legal takeaway is that driving is a licensed activity that is subject to reasonable limits because of the risk to others who share the roads. Using passive alcohol sensors would be a reasonable limit that is far more effective at catching impaired drivers than the current method employed at roadside screenings.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada has endorsed Bill C-247, citing passive alcohol sensors' benefits. Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, said, “The ability for police to use Passive Alcohol Sensors will have a great impact on reducing the number of alcohol impaired drivers on our roadways. This private member bill...will allow police to maximize the technology that is available to detect drinking drivers at roadside. MADD Canada appreciates [these efforts] to lower the number of alcohol related crashes, deaths and injuries”.

Now I want to spend some time on the second measure in Bill C-247. As I said, the bill would also rename the crime of “impaired driving causing death” to “vehicular homicide”. This change would denote greater moral culpability, and that is appropriate. The decision to get behind the wheel while impaired is completely reckless, and the devastating consequences are predictable. A conviction should reflect that culpability.

To raise a recent example, this is the crime for which Marco Muzzo recently received a 10-year sentence for killing three children and their grandfather. That tragedy was directly caused by his decision to get behind the wheel, with a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit.

The Criminal Code of Canada states that a person commits homicide when directly or indirectly by any means causes the death of a human being. Drunk driving causing death would be a form of culpable homicide because it is morally and legally blameworthy. The moment an impaired driver gets behind the wheel, he or she puts others at risk. Words carry weight, they are not empty, and this culpability needs to be accurately reflected in Canadian law. At the same time, this change would preserve judicial discretion to tailor sentences to individual circumstances.

The proposal to call the crime of impaired driving causing death what it really is, vehicular homicide, was originally brought forward as Kassandra's law after Kassandra Kaulius of Surrey, B.C., a 22-year-old victim of impaired driving. The Conservative member for Langley—Aldergrove tabled Kassandra's law as Bill C-652 in the previous Parliament, and again I am pleased that he has seconded Bill C-247.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Kassandra's parents, Markita and Victor. When I was discussing this upcoming speech, Victor pointed out that today, May 3, will mark five years to the day that their beautiful 22-year-old daughter lost her life.

Throughout her life, Kassandra was a lively and enthusiastic person who loved sports. As her parents recall, from the time she was three years old she was already running around her family's backyard playing sports with her older siblings. As she got older, her passion for sports grew. She competed on her high school volleyball, basketball, and softball teams, eventually receiving athletic scholarships, and had dreams of one day becoming a teacher.

On the one hand, the inspiration behind this bill was a teacher who inspired students and whose life was unjustly taken from him. On the other hand, part of the bill has been named after a young woman who dreamed of becoming a teacher and whose life was unjustly taken from her.

I also want to mention Families For Justice, the organization Markita and Victor have worked so hard to establish and have used to promote awareness of impaired driving. They have collected over 100,000 signatures in support of their cause. I commend their efforts to provide support and counselling services for families that have lost loved ones.

I do not need to remind the House of the harms of impaired driving. According to MADD, impaired driving continues to be the leading criminal cause of death in Canada, claiming almost twice as many lives per year as all categories of homicide combined.

In 2010, impaired driving accounted for approximately 1,082 deaths, 63,281 injuries, and $20.62 billion in financial and social costs. What is important to note is the fact that Statistics Canada indicates that 53% of all adult victims were between the ages of 18 and 35. This means that Canada is being denied young minds that would shape the future of the country.

Furthermore, our country's impaired driving record has been, and remains, poor in comparison to other developed countries. Millions of Canadians continue to drive after drinking, one reason being they believe they can do so with relatively little fear of being apprehended.

An international review of 15 countries reported that Canada has the second-highest rate of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes. Similarly, a Transport Canada study found that Canada had the highest rate of impairment among fatally injured drivers of eight countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Furthermore, Canada had the highest rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities as a percentage of total fatalities among 13 countries.

Although the selective breath testing programs that are currently in place are a productive step toward preventing impaired driving, the majority of impaired drivers go undetected at sobriety checkpoints. MADD reports that of the four million to five million drivers who are stopped each year at sobriety checkpoints, less than 1% are subject to roadside breath testing on an approved screening device.

It is for this reason that the main measure in my bill, the authorization of passive alcohol sensors, is evidence-based and necessary. These devices detect the presence and approximate amount of alcohol in a driver's exhaled breath by sampling the ambient air near his or her mouth.

The device also contains a pump that draws in air over a sensor that reacts to alcohol and registers a reading within a matter of seconds.

Passive alcohol sensors provide an easy, reliable and non-intrusive method of efficiently screening a large number of drivers with minimal delay, which will ultimately save more lives each year.

Passive alcohol sensors have been around for some time. The technology is not new, however, initially they were units on their own. It is important to note that when discussing passive alcohol sensors, for the most part, we are simply discussing a feature built into many of the approved screening devices already carried by peace officers. This means that the express authorization of a passive alcohol sensor would most likely allow officers to use their current devices, optimizing the tools already available to them.

As Robert Solomon, a law professor at Western University, has said, “...currently nothing preventing Canadian police from using PASs”.

Regardless, amendments to the Criminal Code explicitly authorizing police to use passive alcohol sensors would be effective. It would create a national standard which would ultimately reduce the confusion that otherwise arises from having 13 different provincial and territorial enforcement powers and practices. Police officers would also be more likely to use PASs if they are given express statutory authority to do so. Furthermore, the publicity surrounding the introduction of a national passive alcohol sensor program together with the knowledge that police officers are using more sophisticated detection methods would increase the perceived risk of apprehension and ultimately have a deterrent impact.

Over the past months, I have consulted with numerous police officers and police chiefs all over the country. It is apparent that the overarching consensus is that the more tools available to the police, the better.

To conclude, the problem of impaired driving needs to be better addressed by Parliament. The goal of my bill is not only to change how we view impaired driving offences, but to reduce instances of deaths and injuries by employing modern technology. Hopefully, with the passage of Bill C-247, we will further deter drinking and driving to safeguard Canadians, their families, and our communities.

I look forward to this bill going to committee, and I welcome amendments as well.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2016 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak to Bill C-247.

At the outset, let me congratulate the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for his impassioned speech. While I will not be able to support the bill for reasons that I will explain momentarily, I do want to acknowledge that this legislation is well intentioned and that the objectives of the hon. member are noble.

Impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. In 2016, that is simply unacceptable. However, that being said, it is important to acknowledge that over the last several decades, Canada has come a long way to combatting impaired driving. Indeed, over the last two decades, the percentage of motor vehicle deaths involving impaired drivers has decreased. In some year-to-year comparisons, there have perhaps been increases, but the trend line is clear and they are going down. While that is not a reason to celebrate, it is evidence that the combination of public awareness, policing efforts, and legislative changes over the last several decades are having a positive effect.

Nonetheless, there continues to be people who drink, drive, and cause carnage on our roads. These are people like Johnathan Pratt. He was someone who, in 2011, killed three young men outside of Beaumont, Alberta. Pratt was more than three times over the legal limit, driving 199 kilometres an hour down a highway when he rammed into a vehicle occupied by the young men, effectively crushing them to death.

Then there is Roger Walsh, someone who killed a wheelchair-bound woman while he was impaired and behind the wheel. This was Walsh's nineteenth conviction for impaired driving.

The vast majority of Canadians understand that impaired driving is dangerous, that it is illegal, and most importantly that it is wrong. The vast majority of Canadians not only understand those facts, but are heeding the message and choosing not to get behind the wheel while impaired.

However, there are some who continue to do so. There is no one profile of an impaired driver. There are many instances of people who rarely drive impaired, or perhaps someone decides to do so one fateful night and in turn causes injury or death on the road. However, a big part of the problem in terms of those who are causing carnage on our roads is that they are regular, repeat, hard-core drunk drivers.

The question that we must ask as parliamentarians is, how do we deal with a relatively small number of people who are causing a disproportionate amount of grief, death, and injury on our roads? The answer is that we need to ensure that those types of offenders are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, some of the laws on the books today are simply not doing the job to the degree that they ought to.

That is why I was very pleased to see that my colleague, the hon. member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-226. Bill C-226 contains some important measures to hold serious impaired driving offenders accountable. It would impose a mandatory minimum for an impaired driver who causes death. It would increase sentencing for impaired drivers who cause bodily harm from 10 years to 14 years. It would also allow for consecutive sentencing for impaired drivers who cause multiple deaths to ensure that every victim of impaired driving is accounted for.

When it comes to holding regular, repeat, and hard-core drunk drivers accountable, unfortunately, unlike Bill C-226, I believe that Bill C-247 falls short. While Bill C-247 falls short in this regard, it would impose a form of random breath testing, passive alcohol sensors. Certainly I would acknowledge that Bill C-226 does not contain passive sensors, but I have some reservations about any form of random breath testing.

Under sections 8 and 9 of the charter, it would most certainly run afoul. It is quite arguable that it could be saved under section 1 of the charter, and I believe there would be a reasonable chance that it would be saved. However, the issue is what impact it will have in reducing the number of impaired drivers and deaths on our roads. The evidence is mixed on that question.

Indeed, there is some body of statistical evidence that indicates this type of testing has no more impact in reducing impaired driving than things that are currently employed by law enforcement, such as checkstops. Indeed, in the city of Edmonton in the last few years, one thing that had the biggest impact in reducing impaired driving was the city posting signs saying that if people see impaired drivers, they should phone 911. Therefore, I think we have to perhaps look at other alternatives to random breath testing. What is more, I believe this legislation just does not cut it when it comes to holding the most serious offenders accountable for impaired driving.

It is on that basis that I regretfully will not support this particular bill. However, I want to commend the hon. member for bringing it forward, because it is an important debate and an important issue that Parliament must continue to address.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2016 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured and pleased to have the opportunity to rise today and join in the second reading debate of Bill C-247 introduced by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.

I will begin by offering congratulations to the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for his passion and commitment to this very significant problem in our society.

He and I have had the privilege of having a number of conversations about the various approaches and concerns he had with respect to impaired driving. He has shared with me some of the stories, as he did today about Kassandra's death, but other things have compelled him to respond with this private member's bill, and I want to commend him for his passion and commitment in bringing this important issue forward.

The social impact of impaired driving in Canada cannot be overstated. We have heard a number of statistics, but it is important to actually break those down into the impact it is having on families and communities across this country.

Each year, on average, nearly 1,500 Canadians lose their lives as a direct result of a decision some Canadian has made to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol. That means, on average, that each and every day in this country nearly four people lose their lives, and there are very few families and no communities that have not been impacted by this terrible crime. As has already been stated, impaired driving is the number one leading cause of criminal death in Canada.

As my colleague the member for St. Albert—Edmonton has indicated, we have seen some improvement over the past number of decades in societal condemnation and in the number of impaired drivers we see; but there is so much more work to be done.

It is important to reflect on why we have seen some of those reductions. I was actually a young police officer in 1979 when the first roadside screening program was established in the city of Toronto, the RIDE program, which is now “reduce impaired driving everywhere” but began as “reduce impaired driving in Etobicoke”. As young police officers, we were sent out with the task of randomly pulling over vehicles on the street to determine if their drivers had been drinking and driving.

That program had two very important purposes. The first purpose was to detect the people who were driving impaired and to hold them responsible for their conduct. However, perhaps most importantly and most impactfully, it had the effect of sending a very clear message about society's condemnation of impaired driving, the seriousness with which we as a society and our police and courts took this offence. It also created a stronger impression among the population that this was a crime, a crime that would be dealt with effectively, a crime where we would increase the likelihood of detection, where there was a greater certainty of consequences and that those consequences would be significant and serious enough to deter that criminal behaviour.

We have also seen some additional tools and technologies that have enhanced our ability to be more effective in those roadside stops. For example, many years ago, roadside screening devices were developed that enabled police officers to administer a test on the basis of reasonable suspicion of those people who we believed had been consuming alcohol prior to operating a motor vehicle.

If I may, I will explain to my colleagues a little bit how that is done. I actually got a fair bit of experience at roadside RIDE spot checks as a police officer in Toronto. I think for the last 20 years, I have spent every New Year's Eve standing along the roadway with a number of other police officers pulling over cars.

When we do that, as a car is going through the spot check, the police officer will stop the driver and make certain observations and certain inquiries. Among the observations, the officer will will try to detect the scent of alcohol on the driver or glassy eyes or slurred speech. We would ask those drivers if they had been drinking alcohol.

If we make observations that cause us to be suspicious that the driver has been consuming alcohol—and it has to be a reasonable suspicion, not a mere suspicion but not at the level of reasonable, probable grounds—police officers are empowered in law to make a demand for the driver to submit to a roadside screening test, the consequences of which can lead to other things I will speak of. However, because we stop literally thousands of cars in an evening in this way, the opportunity to detect if the individual has been consuming alcohol is somewhat limited.

The experience of police officers across this country in conducting those all important random stops has been that people do not not admit to having consumed alcohol or the signs of consumption are not obvious. We know that many people avoid detection, notwithstanding the enormous amount of resources and effort being put into making a difference in our communities. It is quite obvious to those of us who have worked out on the streets in our communities and seen the carnage, seen the impact it has on families, seen the literally thousands of people who have lost loved ones to impaired driving, that we must do more.

Our current court system is processing nearly 60,000 criminal cases each and every year related to impaired driving. In addition to that, there are literally tens of thousands of injuries as a result of the decision that some people make to drink and drive. We must do more. The private member's bill brought forward by my friend from Mississauga—Streetsville gives the police authorities one more tool to enable them to do their job.

Bill C-247 proposes to amend the Criminal Code to specifically authorize the police to use a device referred to as a passive detection device, often referred to as a passive alcohol sensor, at the roadside in an effort to better detect impaired drivers. These sensors are able to detect alcohol in the ambient air. It does not require that the driver blow into a machine. It can provide police officers with a reasonable suspicion that would enable them to make a demand for a roadside screening device to be administered.

Not two weeks ago there was another private member's bill brought forward in this House by the hon. member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis. In that bill, he made a number of very important proposals. Many members, representing all parties, stood in this House to express their concern about the need to do more with respect to impaired driving. I would submit that the private member's bill that we are speaking to today is along very similar lines. It is one additional and important tool that may enable us to keep our communities safe.

Historically, there have been a number of things that we know can make a difference in preventing crime in our society. One of the most significant things that we can do as a society is to increase the likelihood of detection and conviction for those who would choose to commit a crime. We know that the offence of impaired driving often goes undetected even at roadside screening sites where the police are randomly stopping cars. We know that the proposed private member's bill would increase the likelihood of detection.

We also know it is important to reinforce societal condemnation of impaired driving. We can do that through public education. We can do it by advising people of the risks and consequences of driving impaired. I can give an example of when the increased likelihood of detection and consequences made a real difference to the safety of our communities.

In many jurisdictions across this country, drivers under the age of 21 are required to drive free of all alcohol and are subject to administrative suspension if they choose to drink and drive. The likelihood of consequences at the roadside screening events has had a very significant effect on drivers under 21 right across this country choosing not to drink and drive. It has changed the societal attitudes among those young people about drinking and driving and has made our roadways safer. Anything that we can do to improve the decisions that people make about not drinking and driving will make our roadways safer.

In the limited time that I have, I also want to make some reference to the other important element of Bill C-247, which proposes to change the name of two impaired driving offences. This bill proposes to rename two impaired driving offences, specifically the offence of impaired driving causing death and the offence of “over 80” causing death, to vehicular homicide as a result of impairment. I think there is cause to consider both of these recommendations. I look forward to having the opportunity to bring this matter before the justice committee for further discussion.

I believe it is very important that this House do everything possible to respond to the tragedies that families and communities have experienced as a result of impaired driving.

I want to take a final opportunity to commend the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for his commitment, and I want to assure him of all our commitment to do everything possible to make our roadways safer for all of our citizens.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

February 26th, 2016 / 12:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Gagan Sikand Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-247, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (passive detection device).

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to introduce a bill on behalf of Canadians who have been affected by a drunk driver. I would like to thank the member opposite, the member for Langley—Aldergrove , for his wonderful support on this.

Impaired driving continues to be the leading criminal cause of death in Canada, claiming almost twice as many lives per year as all categories of homicide combined. Over 1,000 Canadians are killed every year because someone chose to drive while impaired or drunk when they should have taken a taxi or a bus.

The bill would amend the wording of the Criminal Code to call this what it really is, vehicular homicide. It would also authorize the use of passive alcohol sensors by peace officers as an aid to use during roadside stops or RIDE programs. This passive device provides an easy, reliable, and non-intrusive method of efficiently screening drivers with minimum delay. This type of device has been used in other jurisdictions by peace officers and has proven highly effective.

It gives me great pride to introduce this bill that would ultimately keep our roads safer.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)