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.