Good morning. Thank you for your invitation.
In any piece of legislation, before being able to say how relevant the measures being proposed actually are, one first needs to consider the goal being pursued and look at the problems to be resolved. In this case, the purported goal is to improve road safety by preventing people who are impaired from driving a vehicle, as they may pose a danger to themselves or to others. However, a bill hoping to attain that objective must successfully resolve the following issues.
The first major issue, which was raised during parliamentary debates, is that thus far, activity has, for all intents and purposes, focussed on alcohol, in terms of both prevention and our legal system, even though there are many other factors that can give rise to impaired driving, be they fatigue, medication or other reasons.
The second issue relates to repeat offenders, who seem to be relatively unaffected by prevention campaigns. Repeat offenders are few in number, but are responsible for the vast majority of accidents. According to the research, these repeat offenders are clearly dependent on drugs, the main drug being alcohol, for most of them. Alcohol is a drug, even though that seems to be somewhat forgotten in some of the debate.
This bill must make it possible to determine all the causes of impaired driving and to better target repeat offenders. However, it succeeds in neither case.
What are the issues clearly indicating that this bill misses the target, which is to improve road safety by preventing impaired driving?
The first issue is that the bill is practically unenforceable from a financial standpoint. In fact, a number of parliamentarians have pointed to that specific problem and the debate on Bill C-16 — the predecessor to Bill C-32 — clearly demonstrated that. The resources that will be needed to implement this bill across the country are in the millions of dollars. Even the addition of 1 000 police officers, as one parliamentarian has suggested, would in no way resolve the problem in rural areas. The process created here is cumbersome and practically unenforceable.
As well, enforcing this legislation will be costly. In a general sense, there is the cost of training DREs and police officers. However, the regular renewal of portable detection equipment, validation of laboratory drug tests and judicial procedures are also extremely costly. We are talking here about a middle class that will defend itself. There is a whole maze of possibilities. We already know what the alcohol-related side of this costs in terms of legal proceedings. This opens a whole new window of opportunity that will create very costly legal tangles.
The second issue, as was already mentioned, is that traces of drugs in the body are not clear proof that a person was impaired. They simply indicate that this individual used drugs. If, for example, a person used marijuana Friday evening and, on the following Friday, is given a drug test, the test will not be about determining whether that person was impaired because of marijuana. The test would only tell us that in the days or weeks prior to that, the individual in question had used marijuana.
The kind of equipment that authorities claim to be able to use is relatively discriminatory. It has been proven scientifically that it cannot be said that a person is impaired simply because traces of drugs have been detected in that individual's body.
The third issue is that enforcement of this legislation is likely to be extremely discriminatory. As Mr. Therien pointed out, there are 22,000 different types of medication and a whole range of drugs. It is quite clear that the portable equipment used nowadays focusses on certain types of drugs that are used by certain kinds of people.
In that respect, one may wonder whether the real objective is to catch people who use illegal drugs, or to include all the possible causes of impaired driving, whatever drug has been used. During the debate on Bill C-16, some pointed out that if medication were involved, that person would be referred to a physician or to someone other than the police.
The message of prevention that this bill sends is that there are good and bad reasons to drive while impaired. Let me give you an example.
Supposing an individual worked an unexpected shift and has not slept for 30 hours. That person is practically asleep, but still decides to his or her car and ends up killing someone. Are we going to say that it was okay for that individual to have killed someone, simply because he or she had worked too many hours? I don't think that's the kind of message we are trying to convey. We may also be talking about someone 79 years old, who is told by his daughter that his medication puts him to sleep and that he really should not drive a car, but who decides to drive his car anyway, and ends up killing someone. Are we going to tell such individuals that they have the right to kill someone, simply because they are elderly and they decided to drive their car?
The message of prevention that this bill sends is not clear at all. In fact, it seems to be more about the fight against illicit drugs than it does about preventing impaired driving. The millions of dollars that will be invested for no purpose in this bill are millions of dollars that could be invested in prevention.
So, what should be done to improve the current situation as regards impaired driving and move in a different direction in relation to the two issues that I have raised?
It is quite clear that prevention should focus on broadening advertising aimed at specific client groups, so as to include medications considered to impair the ability to drive. Indeed, France has done a great deal of work in that area. Be it on television or through other means, we have to stop saying that alcohol is the only thing that results in impairment, and encourage people to drive only when they are fit to drive.
We are not talking about reinventing the wheel here. I am not referring to sobriety tests, because the issue is not only about having used specific drugs; we are also talking about roadside reflex tests that are videotaped, tests which would now be mandatory. Those tests would make it possible to determine whether an individual is able to drive. Whatever the reason, if that person is not able to drive, he or she would be taken off the road.
We do not need to know whether such individuals use drugs, whether they were tired, whether they were going home or whether they were coming out of a bar. They were tested and filmed and proven not to have the necessary reflexes to drive properly. We are not only seeking people who use drugs through this exercise. The important thing is to remember that we need to take people off the road who are driving impaired.
One of the basic concepts in criminology is that an enforcement mechanism that is simpler and is used more often — and people have the sense that it is being enforced — is preferable to a complex and costly mechanism that is rarely enforced, and which gives people the feeling that they will not get caught because the authorities will hesitate to move in that direction. They have the feeling they will not be targeted because this is only aimed at people who use illegal drugs.
It is much easier to train police officers to carry out a basic reflex test — which involves asking people to walk in a straight line or lift their legs, while being filmed, than it is to train DREs, at a cost of many millions of dollars, whose job it will be to determine, using an extremely complex procedure, whether people seem to have used drugs.
France has done more in a year and a half to reduce speeds on the highway by installing cameras that regularly take pictures of drivers. Highway accidents have decreased by a quarter or a third. I will soon be receiving all the details with respect to the assessments that have been carried out. This particular program involves demerit points and fines, which have a much greater impact than if 300,000 additional police officers had been assigned to patrol the roads in France.
As a result, the more complex the procedures, the less likely it is that they will be enforced and that they will be highly discriminatory.
As regards the second issue—that is, repeat offenders—studies show that the vast majority of them have an alcohol dependency problem. People like them could have their licences taken away. However, what is needed is a much better organized national register to keep track of them, so that their licences can be taken away as long as there are not adequate guarantees that their problem has been resolved. The real issue here is treatment.
When you read the testimony of highway accident victims, you realize that they often lacked support following their accident. So, perhaps we should be spending more of these millions of dollars on support for highway traffic accident victims.
In closing, I would just like to say that it is time to give police officers the means they require to ensure more effective prevention of impaired driving, whatever the cause. Police action will be successful if the procedure is simpler and includes demerit points, higher insurance premiums and a proper offences registry. Such measures, which are far less costly than those presented here, would also allow for the introduction of a series of additional measures aimed at prevention and at assisting highway traffic accident victims.
Unfortunately, this bill does not move in that direction and even risks reducing police effectiveness in this area, at the expense of the many individuals who are victims of traffic accidents.