moved that Bill S-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (drug-impaired driving) be read a second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House today to debate Bill S-230, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (drug-impaired driving). This bill is critically important in the effort to protect Canadians from the growing scourge of drug-impaired drivers who get behind the wheel. It is a matter that is becoming more pressing given the Liberals' plan to legalize marijuana.
I want to begin by thanking Senator Claude Carignan and his entire team who worked extremely hard on drafting this bill and had the vision to get out ahead of the House of Commons by introducing this legislation in the Senate last year. I also want to take this opportunity to commend the work of all the senators who studied this bill and passed it unanimously. That is the collaborative, constructive, and non-partisan approach that I hope to see here in the House for this bill.
In fact, this bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code to authorize police officers to use a drug screening device, not unlike a breathalyser, which is not possible under current legislation.
To clearly explain the problem, I will talk about a study on drug-impaired driving conducted by the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse. The centre published a report indicating that the percentage of Canadian drivers fatally injured in vehicle crashes who had taken drugs is 40% and exceeds the percentage of drivers fatally injured who had consumed alcohol, which is 33%. Furthermore, this study indicated that a driver who has used marijuana is six times more likely to have a motor vehicle accident than a sober driver. After using opioids, a driver is eight times more likely to have an accident, and after using cocaine is 10 times more likely to have an accident.
Therefore, it is obvious today that drug-impaired driving is an issue that is just as important if not more so than drunk driving. It would be understandable to believe that the number of arrests of drug-impaired drivers is similar to the number of arrests of drunk drivers. That is not the case and that is where the real problem lies.
In Canada, despite the fact that the number of drug-impaired drivers is about the same as the number of drunk drivers, the number of arrests is not. According to the Government of Canada, in 2013, 97% of prosecutions for impaired driving were alcohol related, while only 3% were drug related. This is completely out of line with the real statistics. Why?
Simply because there is currently no roadside screening device to detect drug-impaired driving. For example, as we all know, police officers who suspect a driver of being under the influence of alcohol can easily ask that person to take a blood alcohol test to check his or her level of intoxication. However, a police officer who believes that a driver is on drugs cannot use such a device because current legislation just does not allow it.
Here is how Canada's Criminal Code works now. If a police officer suspects a driver is impaired, he or she administers an initial blood alcohol test. If the individual's test result is negative, but the police officer has reason to believe that the driver is under the influence of a drug, the officer can ask the suspect to take the standardized field sobriety test. In other words, the person is simply instructed to walk, turn around, and balance on one foot.
Based on the results of the roadside test, the officer decides whether to take the suspect to the police station for evaluation by a drug recognition expert. If the driver is taken to the police station, he or she will undergo a series of 12 clinical indicator tests including blood pressure, pulse, and pupil dilation, as well as other tests related to behaviour and divided attention, such as standing up straight, feet together, arms extended, eyes closed, balancing, and so on. The tests take 45 minutes.
After these tests, if a drug recognition expert detects the presence of a drug, he or she will require a urine or blood sample. If the tests confirm the presence of the drug in question after a lab analysis, the driver could be charged with impaired driving under the Criminal Code and will stand trial.
That being said, in the absence of a device similar to a breathalyzer that would allow police officers to easily determine at the side of the road whether or not a driver is impaired by marijuana, the process is far too complex, not to mention the cumbersome administrative procedure that follows. More worrisome yet is that not every police station in Canada has a drug recognition expert. We hope to have one, or two at most, per police station in Canada.
Without a screening device to help easily and quickly detect errant drivers, the problem of drug-impaired driving will persist and continue to be the cause of countless deaths in Canada. That is why Bill S-230 is timely because it addresses this problem directly by making the necessary amendments to the Criminal Code.
First of all, Bill S-230 will give the Attorney General of Canada, and not the government or any political parties, the power to authorize the use of certain roadside screening devices to detect the presence of drugs in the body. The device would be approved by the Attorney General of Canada based on consultations with forensic science experts. The same process is already used to approve alcohol detection devices.
Furthermore, under this bill, a police officer who has reasonable ground to suspect drug-impaired driving can ask the driver to submit to a test using a drug screening device. The device would not be used without reasonable grounds. This approach is similar to the one used when impaired driving is suspected. This is no different than what police officers already do in the case of alcohol.
Lastly, in obvious cases of drug-impaired driving, a police officer could ask for a urine or blood sample at the police station without having to go through the 12 stages, since the evaluating officer will have already done the test with the screening device. This last part of the bill means that the physical coordination test, observations, and results from the screening device would give the police officer reasonable grounds to suspect impaired driving.
I was lucky enough to speak with a senior official at the school that trains police officers in Quebec. I can assure the House that the current approach is very complex and that there are not enough evaluation officers to meet the demand. The screening device would be welcomed with open arms and would be an additional tool that would allow officers to save precious time. These changes would essentially help make drug detection closer to how alcohol is detected, thanks to the use of a screening device. This process would allow police officers to detect impaired driving more quickly.
Time is an important factor when drugs are involved. The more quickly a driver is stopped, the more quickly we can determine his exact state of intoxication because drugs are quickly absorbed by the body.
It is also worth noting that Canada is not the first country to adopt this approach. In fact, Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, Finland, Germany and several other western countries that are not even considering legalizing marijuana have been using this tool for about ten years. In these countries, this device allows police officers to better do their jobs and to prevent many accidents and deaths. Ultimately, public safety is improved and lives are saved.
Even more important, the use of this kind of drug detection device by police would deter drivers who are thinking of driving their vehicle after using drugs. At present, many people use drugs instead of alcohol because they believe their chances of being caught are lower.
That being said, if the introduction of a drug screening device increases the chances that users will be caught, it will likely have a deterrent effect and reduce the number of drug-impaired drivers. That is what happened when breathalysers were introduced to test alcohol levels. Although awareness campaigns and education are important, the risk of being arrested and charged with a criminal offence for endangering the safety of the public is certainly more convincing than an ad on television.
This evening, I invite those who are watching to talk to their teenagers and ask them what their friends think about drug-impaired driving. Surveys of teenagers and marijuana users show that many people do not believe that they are a threat on the road if they drive after taking drugs. The various studies that have been done show that over 50% of people who admit to using marijuana or other drugs say that they do not consider themselves to be a risk or danger to the public on the road.
This bill is necessary and will address a very real problem. I hardly need to point out that the Liberal government's bill to legalize marijuana by July 1, 2018, makes this issue and the need for this law all the more pressing. As alarming as the numbers are now, we can imagine how much more so they will be once Canadians can legally buy, grow, and use marijuana. It is not a stretch to suppose that the number of people using it and the number of drug-impaired drivers will go up. That is what happened in places that legalized marijuana. I would like to share some examples.
According to Washington State toxicology lab manager Brian Capron, since the state legalized marijuana, over a third of impaired drivers tested positive for the drug. They test over 13,000 drivers every year.
According to Dr. Chris Rumball of the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, the Prime Minister's plan to legalize marijuana should take into account sobering U.S. experiences. In Washington State, fatal crashes among drivers who tested positive for marijuana doubled from 8% in 2013 to 17% in 2014 after legalization. In Colorado, the number tripled from 3.4% to 12.1%
Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy advisor to Barack Obama, was very clear. He said that Colorado experienced an increase in road accidents directly related to marijuana use.
Even a Department of Justice Canada document obtained through access to information, even though it is hard to access certain documents, reveals some troubling facts. Here is what the minister's briefing notes say: “On Colorado highways, for instance, in the year following the legalization of marijuana, road fatalities linked to drug-impaired driving increased by 32%.” We do not make things up on this side of the House.
Colorado police officers have also issued a warning. They have said that law enforcement officials should be prepared for an increase in drug-impaired driving if the government legalizes cannabis. When Colorado legalized marijuana in 2014, police forces were not prepared for the challenges they faced.
A lieutenant colonel of the Colorado state police hit the nail on the head. After legalizing marijuana, Colorado was not prepared to deal with the sharp rise in drug-impaired driving, and this led to a 32% increase in fatalities in that state due to road accidents.
The bill has already been passed in the Senate and it could become law in a few months, perhaps in a few weeks, if the government so desires. If we wait for another bill to make the same changes, we will delay the implementation of these measures that will prevent fatalities.
Police forces are asking for detection devices. They do not want these devices on July 1, 2018, they want them this year before the government legalizes marijuana.
For that reason we need this bill now. That is why I am asking my colleagues opposite to put aside partisanship and support this bill, which will save lives.