Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House to join in the second reading debate on Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
I am proud to speak in support of this proposed legislation. If passed, our government is convinced that Bill C-46 will reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by impaired drivers. Our roads and highways will be safer for our efforts.
The bill proposes to address both alcohol- and drug-impaired driving, but I intend to focus my remarks primarily on the elements that address drug-impaired driving.
Before I outline the proposals in Bill C-46, I would like to emphasize that driving while impaired by a drug is currently a criminal offence in Canada, and has been since 1925. Members should rest assured that if someone drives while impaired by drugs today, he or she will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Bill C-46 seeks to build on the existing offence by authorizing new tools and by creating new offences to make Canada one of the world's leaders in the fight against impaired driving.
To enforce the existing offence of driving while impaired by drugs, the Criminal Code currently authorizes the police to conduct standardized field sobriety tests at the roadside. These tests can include asking a driver to walk a straight line, balance on one leg, and a number of other tests of physical and motor skills. The Criminal Code also authorizes more sophisticated drug recognition evaluations at the police station, by highly trained drug recognition evaluators, once the police officer has reasonable grounds to believe, based on roadside tests or otherwise, that the driver is impaired.
The drug recognition evaluation consists of a 12-step protocol to determine whether the driver is impaired by a drug. It includes testing such things as balance, pupil size, and blood pressure. These tools have been effective since their legislative introduction in 2008 and have led to an increase in the detection of drug-impaired drivers across our country, yet despite these measures, drug-impaired driving on our roads continues to increase. Clearly, more needs to be done in advance of our proposed legislation and the strict regulation of cannabis.
My colleagues have also mentioned the need for training more drug recognition experts. Our government has, on many occasions, re-emphasized its commitment to ensuring that a drug recognition training program is available and acceptable to all Canadian police services so that we can make sure there are adequately trained experts to conduct these tests.
I am pleased to outline the proposals in Bill C-46 that aim to address drug-impaired driving by building on the existing legal framework and by proposing new tools and offences to create a strong impaired-driving regime.
Bill C-46 proposes to provide law enforcement with the authority to demand that a driver provide an oral fluid sample at the roadside to be analyzed by a roadside oral fluid drug screener if an officer has a reasonable suspicion that a driver has drugs in his or her body. Reasonable suspicion is a well-understood standard in criminal law and can be developed through a number of observations, including such things as red eyes, muscle termors, abnormal speech patterns, and of course, the smell of cannabis.
These oral fluid drug screeners would detect the presence of a drug in a driver's oral fluid, and they would provide the officers with information that could be used to develop reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an impaired-driving offence had occurred. Once officers had reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the offence had occurred, they would then have the authority to demand a sample of blood from the driver, and as well, to bring them before a drug recognition expert for evaluation.
The oral fluid drug screener would detect THC, cocaine, and methamphetamine. In the future, more drugs will be able to be detected by these oral fluid drug screeners as the technology evolves.
Madam Speaker, I forgot to mentioned earlier that I will be splitting my time with the member for Oakville North—Burlington.
In addition to authorizing these additional tools for police, the bill proposes three new criminal offences for being over the prescribed legal drug limit within two hours of driving. These offences would be proven through a blood sample and would relieve the crown of the burden of proving that the driver was impaired. It would be enough to prove that the driver had an illegal level of drugs in his or her blood.
The first offence would be a straight summary conviction offence. The second and third offences would be hybrid offences: the second one would apply to drugs alone, while the third would apply to drugs when used in combination with alcohol.
Members may have noticed that although the proposed offences are in the bill, the actual prohibited drug levels are not. This is because the drug levels are to be set by regulation, which comes into force at the same time, or close to the same time, as the proposed offences.
Setting the prohibited levels in the regulations is the responsibility of the Minister of Justice, who has the ability to revise the regulations more quickly and efficiently in response to scientific developments. This is the approach currently taken in setting prohibited drug levels in the United Kingdom, and I believe it is the wisest course of action.
Other impairing drugs would be included in the regulations, but I would like to focus on the proposed levels for tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary impairing component of cannabis. For the straight summary conviction offence, the proposed level for THC would be between two and five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood. The proposed penalty for this offence is a maximum fine of $1,000 and a discretionary prohibition on driving for up to one year.
The proposed level of THC for the drug-alone hybrid offence would be over five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood, and for the hybrid offence addressing drugs when used in combination with alcohol, the proposed levels would be 2.5 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood in combination with 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.
The penalties for these two new hybrid offences would be the same as for alcohol-impaired driving, and they would include a mandatory minimum penalty of $1,000 on a first offence, 30 days' imprisonment on a second offence, and 120 days' imprisonment on a third or subsequent offence.
One final element of the proposed offences I would like to address concerns the time frame in which the proposed legal limit offence could be committed. Members may have noticed that the offence is worded to capture drivers with a prohibited level of drug in their blood within two hours of driving, and not at the time of driving.
This proposed formulation reflects a number of significant policy goals. First, unlike with alcohol, it is not possible to determine or back-calculate from a blood sample what a driver's blood drug concentration would have been at the time of driving. This is why the within-two-hours framework is necessary. It further addresses the concern of people trying to obstruct the testing process by consuming drugs after driving and then claiming that this post-driving consumption was responsible for the illegal drug level.
I would like to conclude my remarks by addressing a few of the more common questions I have heard over the past few weeks concerning this bill since its introduction.
People have been asking, “How much can I smoke before I can drive, and how long after I smoke do I need to wait before it is safe to drive?” I understand these questions, because for years, we have been able to provide general guidance to drivers with respect to alcohol consumption.
There is a significant scientific consensus that consuming cannabis impairs the ability to drive. The proposed prescribed THC levels are based on the advice of the Drugs and Driving Committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science. This committee provides scientific advice to the Minister of Justice on issues related to drug-impaired driving.
Let me be perfectly clear. The safest approach for people who choose to consume cannabis is to not mix their consumption with driving. Driving is a privilege, not a right. If Canadians choose to consume cannabis, they must do so in a socially responsible way by not risking the lives of their fellow Canadians, to say nothing of their own.
I would also take this opportunity to point out what was already referenced by the member in his speech regarding the remarks of eminently respected constitutional scholar Prof. Peter Hogg, in which he articulates his belief that the measures proposed in this legislation are constitutionally valid, constitutional validity being determined under section 1 of the charter as a reasonable suspicion and passing the elements of the Oakes test.
Finally, I wish to strongly support the proposals in Bill C-46. I would like to encourage all members to support this bill and work towards the common goal of reducing deaths and injuries on our roads and highways as quickly as possible.
I spent more than four decades of my adult life dealing with this critical issue. I have seen far too many people lose their lives, far too injuries, and far too much trauma and tragedy in our communities for this to continue to persist. We have a responsibility to act, and I believe that the provisions of Bill C-46 are the right steps forward.
I encourage all members of this House to support this bill.