Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. As you indicated, I'm here with Greg Yost from the criminal law policy section and Corporal Evan Graham from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I just want to make sure you know that he's not here for my protection; he's here for your edification. I want to make that clear at the outset.
I'm pleased to appear before you again as you begin consideration of Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I note that the bill received the support of all parties in the House, but that a number of members have expressed various concerns and look forward to the standing committee's hearings during which experts should be able to respond to their questions.
I want to reiterate that the government is open to consideration of any amendments that are consistent with the scope and principle of this bill and that you consider would strengthen the bill.
As you know, the bill deals with three components: drug impaired driving, defences to a charge of driving with blood alcohol content exceeding 80 milligrams, and amendments that respond to various problems in the Criminal Code's impaired driving provisions.
With respect to drug impaired driving, I should indicate that the provisions of Bill C-32 are almost identical to Bill C-16 as it was amended by the standing committee in the last Parliament. It will provide the legislative framework for the drug recognition expert or the DRE program.
Canada is actually behind some countries, including the United States, in this particular field. Since 1984, for instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States has supported a drug recognition expert training program, which was initially developed by the Los Angeles, California, police department. DRE training has been validated through both laboratory and field studies conducted by Johns Hopkins University.
In 1987, the highway safety committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police was requested by the NHTSA to participate in the development of a national expansion of drug recognition experts, as well as to oversee certifying of the DREs. It took until 1992 for all the work to be done on the first set of IACP standards to be adopted. Those standards have been revised over the years based on the advice of medical and other experts.
In Canada, DRE-certified officers only use DRE where a suspect voluntarily participates in the testing. Once our legislation authorizing police to make DRE demands is in place, we expect Canada to continue to look to the IACP process to ensure we are always using the most up-to-date, scientifically validated practices and procedures.
Of course my officials and I are not the experts on the pharmacology of various drugs, their effects on the ability of a person to drive, or how long the drug lingers in the body, but we will endeavour to respond to any questions that members have. I'm pleased to have a couple of experts with me.
I would point out that we have been guided by the advice of the drugs and driving committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science. In 1999, when it was examining the impaired driving provisions, it suggested that there was a need to have legislative demands to perform sobriety tests and DRE evaluations.
Some members of this committee are likely familiar with the DRE program from previous hearings. Therefore, I will outline just the main steps.
First, the officer must suspect the presence of a drug in the body before demanding sobriety tests. That suspicion could be based on a number of factors, including the smell of marijuana or physical symptoms such as eyes that do not react normally to light. This is similar to the suspicion of alcohol in the body based on the smell of alcohol or watery eyes, which is the requirement for a demand for a breath test on a screening device at roadside.
Second, it is only if the driver has failed the roadside sobriety test that the officer can demand further tests at the police station. That the driver is unable to walk a straight line or stand on one foot and hold the other six inches off the ground--the usual tests--the officer now has reasonable grounds to believe that the impairment may be caused by a drug or a combination of drugs and alcohol. This is similar to the officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is impaired by alcohol can take the person to the station for a breath test, the result of which can be used in court.
I believe that members will agree that a person who can't perform the simple roadside sobriety tests should not be driving. If the impairment is caused by alcohol or a drug, the person's impairment is a criminal act. The person has voluntarily consumed a substance that reduces his or her ability to drive.
If the impairment is caused by a medical condition, the person will be sent for medical attention. It is then a matter for provincial driver licensing authorities.
The DRE-trained officer will examine the person and have the person perform certain prescribed tests, including, for example, eye examinations in different lighting, muscle tone, blood pressure, and pulse. Before the DRE expert can demand that a bodily substance be analyzed for the presence of a drug, the expert will have formed the opinion that the person's ability is impaired by a family of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.
Third, the analysis of a bodily sample will either confirm or refute the presence of the drug that the DRE has identified as causing the impairment. This is a check on the officer's identification of the involvement of a specific drug family.
Ultimately the court will have before it evidence of erratic driving or behaviour, failure to complete simple physical coordination tests, a DRE report on the physical symptoms observed that lead to the conclusion the impairment is caused by a family of drugs, and proof by analysis that the person had the drugs in his or her body. It's my understanding that the courts in Canada have found that sufficient evidence to found a conviction in cases where the DRE has proceeded with the voluntary participation of a driver. What Bill C-32 will do is compel the person to participate in the physical coordination tests and in the DRE process.
I now turn to the current use of evidence to the contrary in the courts. I note that during the debate at second reading, reforms we are proposing received strong support. In particular, Mr. Comartin, who has studied this issue quite extensively and has seen the consequences of impaired driving, has said a number of times that the way the two-beer defence has been used is almost a “scandal”.
I agree with him. A two-beer defence is a scandal. It may have had merit in an era when breath test instruments used a needle that had to be read by a technician and the results written down. But with modern electronic instruments that have built-in operability checks and that print out the results, these reasons to accept a two-beer defence no longer apply. The two-beer defence makes all the care that goes into testing and approving instruments, and training operators to use them, close to a waste of time.
One question that was raised was whether it was appropriate for the Criminal Code to restrict the kind of evidence that can be brought forward. I can tell you that Parliament has done so in the past--for example, in the rape shield provisions that restrict the cross-examination of a victim of sexual assault regarding past sexual conduct. It is altogether appropriate, therefore, for Parliament to limit the evidence to the contrary to evidence that has scientific merit. The accused will still be able to bring evidence of consumption, but unless there is evidence either that the approved instrument was malfunctioning or was not operating properly, the evidence of consumption will only be relevant if it is compatible both with the BAC recorded on the instrument and also with the person being under 80 milligrams at the time of driving--for example, because the person had a drink after the driving and before the testing.
I would like to refer to a few other particularly notable reforms proposed by Bill C-32. The bill proposes to increase the current penalties in several ways. I think the higher minimum of $1,000 for a first offence, up from the current $600, reflects the seriousness of the crime. We also propose to come down harder on the repeat impaired driver by increasing the mandatory terms of imprisonment, including raising from 90 to 120 days the minimum for a third-time offender.
We do not believe it is appropriate--and I trust the committee will agree--for a person who has two previous convictions to be able to seek to serve the sentence on an intermittent basis, as they now do. Moreover, we are proposing that the maximum term of imprisonment, if the prosecution proceeds summarily, be increased from six to 18 months.
Our provincial colleagues tell us that there are currently many cases where they will ask for more than six months of imprisonment. They have to proceed by indictment, a more serious and more expensive procedure, even though they know they will not be seeking more than 18 months. Eighteen months' maximum on a summary conviction is the same as that provided for a number of offences, including uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm, assault causing bodily harm, sexual assault, and forcible confinement. So the government believes that the threat of harm caused by the impaired driver merits the same maximum punishment on summary convictions as those offences.
In addition, the bill proposes creating new offences of being over 80 milligrams or refusing to provide a breath sample and causing bodily harm or death. These new offences reflect the general approach of the Criminal Code to treat impaired...or being over 80 milligrams and refusal in the same manner.
Currently the Criminal Code only has the offence of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. In an accident situation, there may be no direct evidence of the person's driving. The symptoms ordinarily used to indicate impairment, such as being unsteady on one's feet, may be attributed to the effects of the accident. There is, therefore, an incentive for the person involved in an accident not to provide a breath sample, and because the certificate establishing BAC can be crucial evidence to establish that the person's ability to drive was in fact impaired....
I believe Bill C-32 is a balanced legislation that will greatly assist the police, prosecutors, and the courts in dealing with impaired drivers. I urge the committee to deal with it expeditiously.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my remarks. I'd be pleased to answer any questions that the committee may have.