Mr. Speaker, I am almost sorry that we cannot go right to the question period.
That said, it is my responsibility to address a number of the concerns that we in the Conservative Party have with respect to Bill C-46. While the Conservative Party has always been in favour of toughening laws to discourage drinking and driving, this legislation has some flaws that need to be remedied prior to its coming into law.
The first quandary I will address is the fact that the Liberals are ignoring their own task force recommendations to implement extensive marijuana and impaired driving education and awareness programs prior to the legalization of marijuana. Rather than choosing to be measured in its approach, the government is selecting to ram this legislation through. Officials from both Washington State and Colorado have stressed the importance of starting educational campaigns as soon as possible, before legalization, yet the government has no concrete plans in place to speak to this.
The Liberals have created a false deadline for political gain, and in doing so have placed the health and safety of Canadians at risk. The agenda of any government should never supersede the well-being and security of its citizens. For example, the Canadian Automobile Association, the CAA, has requested that the Liberal government implement a government-funded education program warning about the dangers of driving while impaired under the influence of cannabis prior to the legalization of the drug. They have also requested that police forces be given adequate funding to learn how to identify and investigate drug-impaired drivers.
The government has imposed a timeline that is unrealistic. Education is imperative. The National Post printed a story on May 17, 2016, in which it cited that in a State Farm survey, 44% of all Canadians who smoke marijuana believed it made them better drivers. As a matter of fact, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the former chief of police of Toronto, stated recently in the chamber that 15% of teens believe that smoking marijuana makes them better drivers. His figures may err on the side of caution, but the government is obviously aware that educating drivers is necessary. Why, then, is it that the government is not implementing the required programs in order to keep Canadians safe on our roadways?
A study commissioned by the CAA and conducted by Earnscliffe Strategy Group found this figure to be higher than 15%, and in fact it is was 26% of all drivers between the ages of 18 and 34 believe that driving while high on marijuana made them better drivers. The figures may vary, but the facts are clear. An increasing number of drivers believe that marijuana enhances their capabilities on the road. Jeff Walker, the spokesperson for the CAA, concurs. He said:
There are a lot of misconceptions out there that marijuana doesn’t affect your driving, or even worse, it makes you a better driver.
He then went on to say:
There need to be significant resources devoted to educating the public in the run-up to, and after, marijuana is legalized.
Why is it that the government is ignoring calls to ensure the safety of all Canadians on our roadways by funding and offering an adequate public education program? It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to combat the fallacy that cannabis use while driving is not a hazard to road safety.
The statistics are clear, but the Liberals are more focused on fulfilling an election promise than protecting Canadians. On the Peace Tower is the inscription, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The Liberals are showing a lack of vision. Again, the Liberals are imposing a deadline in order to fulfill one of their election promises. Rushing such legislation is against all recommendations, including that of the CAA and the Liberals' own task force.
As members know, the Conservative Party has always supported measures that protect Canadians from impaired drivers. Drug-impaired driving is a real concern in Canada. The Department of Justice's own statistics cite a 32% increase in deaths from marijuana-involved traffic accidents in the span of a year.
In Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 154% between 2006 and 2014. This was according to a study done by Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a collaboration of federal, state, and local drug enforcement agencies.
It is wrong that the Liberals should ram this legislation through without consideration for the well-being of our citizens. Douglas Beirness, a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, gave voice to similar concerns when he acknowledged, “We’re getting a picture that people who are using cannabis are dying in greater numbers than ever before.” The government needs to ensure that Canadians understand the risks of impaired driving before moving forward with this legislation. At this point it would seem that the Liberal logic is skewed.
Another consequence to rushing this legislation through is that it does not address the concerns police forces have in respect to detecting drug-impaired drivers. Superintendent Gord Jones of the Toronto Police Service, the co-chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police traffic committee stated, “We’re having our challenges. The most pressing one is that we don’t know what the legislation will look like. It makes it hard to train and prepare.”
The Conservative Party is concerned that our police currently do not have the resources and training they will require to manage the increased threat of impaired driving associated with the legalization of marijuana.
The following excerpt is from the February 4, 2017, edition of the Ottawa Citizen:
Under legislation introduced in 2008 to update impaired driving laws, drivers suspected of drug use have been required to participate in a drug evaluation conducted by a Drug Recognition Expert, or DRE.
These police officers, trained to an international standard, rely on their observations to determine whether a blood or urine test is warranted.
The problem is that there are fewer than 600 trained DRE officers in Canada. An assessment conducted in 2009 estimated that Canada needs between 1,800 and 2,000 and the training system isn’t equipped to pump out trained officers any faster.
It goes on to say:
Cannabis affects tracking, reaction time, visual function, concentration and short-term memory. Signs of cannabis use include poor co-ordination and balance, reduced ability to divide attention, elevated pulse and blood pressure, dilated pupils, the inability to cross the eyes, red eyes and eyelid or body tremors.
The government must address the shortfall in DRE-trained officers if it is to sufficiently test for drug-impaired drivers. I reiterate that the Liberals must have trained DRE officers in place prior to the passage of Bill C-46. They have put the cart before the horse. The order that they are proceeding in is wrong, and the result will be more deaths on Canadian roadways.
Additionally, testing for cannabis is far more bomplicated than testing for alcohol. While the timing of alcohol consumption is readily detected with a breathalyzer, the smelling of cannabis does not necessarily mean it was recently consumed, as drugs absorb at a different rate than alcohol. Chemical traces of cannabis remain in the body longer than alcohol. Whereas breathalyzers are recognized by the courts, there is no such precedent with drug-impaired driving. There will be challenges until there are court decisions.
Let me be clear. When the Conservatives were in government, we supported increased penalties for crimes that put Canadians in danger, such as impaired driving. It is interesting to note that the Liberals opposed legislation that imposed higher maximum penalties. Their approach now simply makes no sense. The Conservatives introduced a private member's bill on impaired driving, as my colleague pointed out, Bill C-226, and the Liberals opposed that legislation.
Bill C-46 raises concerns with regard to law enforcement. Let me be clear. For nine years the Conservatives fought hard to bring in tough impaired driving legislation which the Liberals, as we know, opposed at every opportunity. Now they wish to introduce Bill C-46 to counter their own legislation, Bill C-45, the bill that would legalize the sale and consumption of marijuana. If reasonable suspicion were to remain a criterion, the public would be fully protected, both in terms of their charter rights and freedoms and in regard to their safety on the roads.
Another troubling aspect of Bill C-46 is the fact that it will inevitably cause more court backlogs and delays when individuals would find themselves in the position of having to challenge the legislation.
The Liberals have already created an unnecessary crisis in our legal system by refusing to appoint the required number of judges. It was just pointed out today during question period that they have not. As a result, alleged rapists and murderers are being set free as court cases across the country are being stayed following the Jordan decision. I am guessing that Bill C-46 would further burden the law courts with challenges, worsening the current crisis.
Canadians could lose confidence in their justice system, and unless amendments are made to Bill C-46, disaster will ensure if more and more cases are dismissed. I find it ironic that they would abolish the $200 victim surcharge for murdered victims' families in the name of alleviating financial hardship on the convicted, yet would seek to financially burden citizens who may be forced to challenge this legislation.
The marijuana task force report's advice to the ministers, on page 44, was as follows:
“The Task Force recommends that the federal government invest immediately and work 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 the best way to avoid driving impaired is to not consume. The strategy should also inform Canadians of the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving, with special emphasis on youth, and the applicable laws and the ability of law enforcement to detect cannabis use.”
The task force went on to recommend that the federal government “invest in research to better link THC levels with impairment and crash risk to support the development of a per se limit; determine whether to establish a per se limit as part of a comprehensive approach to cannabis-impaired driving, acting on findings of the drugs and driving committee; re-examine per se limits, should a reliable correlation between THC levels and impairment be established; support the development of an appropriate roadside drug screening device for detecting THC levels, and invest in these tools; invest in law enforcement capacity, including DRE and SFST training and staffing; and invest in baseline data collection and ongoing surveillance and evaluation in collaboration with provinces and territories.”
The report went on to say, “While it may take time for the necessary research and technology to develop, the task force encourages all governments to implement elements of a comprehensive approach as soon as feasible”.
Thus far, we have not seen any plans to make sure these recommendations are put into effect. Why is that? Could it be that the government simply does not have the money? I find that hard to believe. I think it has the money for everything. The government's own finance department produced a report that says it is not going to be worried about a balanced budget until 2055, so what is the problem with the government spending more money?
The government needs to put the welfare of Canadians first and foremost and before its own political agenda. It is simply wrong that the government would not provide the necessary education, detection tools, deterrent policies, evaluation data, and national coordination between the provinces and territories to inform Canadians on the dangers of drug-impaired driving. This should be part of an overall legislative approach to implementing Bill C-46. The absence of these components, in addition to adding further strain on our already overburdened courts, would make the hasty passage of this bill reckless.