Dear honourable members of the justice and human rights committee, thank you for inviting me here today.
My name is Markita Kaulius, and I am the president of the Families for Justice society. Families for Justice is a non-profit organization made up of parents, family members, and supporters who have all had a child or loved one killed by an impaired driver in Canada.
My 22-year-old daughter, Kassandra Kaulius, was killed by an impaired driver on May 3, 2011. She was killed in a catastrophic collision, and was T-boned and crushed to death. She was struck on the driver's side door at 103 kilometres per hour by an impaired driver speeding through a red light at an intersection. My daughter was driving home after coaching a softball game and had the right-of-way to make a left turn. Kassandra lost her life because an impaired driver made the choice to drink and drive while being impaired. My world and that of my family was changed forever.
Impaired driving is the number one criminal cause of death in Canada, and every year impaired drivers leave a terrible trail of death, destruction, heartbreak, and injury. From the point of view of numbers alone, it has a far greater impact on Canadian society than any other crime. When it comes to the deaths and serious injuries resulting in hospitalization, impaired driving is clearly the crime that causes the most significant social loss to our country.
Research shows that drinking alcohol is the third highest factor for global disease in 2010, moving up from being ranked sixth in 1990.
When health and social costs for deaths, injuries, and damage are totalled, the costs related to impaired driving, including with alcohol and drugs, were estimated at over $20.6 billion a year in 2010 alone.
Among psychoactive drugs, alcohol-related disorders were the top cause of hospitalization in 2011. Globally, alcohol was linked to over three million deaths in 2012, slightly more than lung cancer and HIV combined.
The numbers of impaired driving incidents have fluctuated over many years, reaching a low of more than 76,000 incidents in 2006, before increasing again to a high of more than 86,000 in 2009. More recently, the number of reported impaired driving incidents was more than 72,000 in 2014.
Over the last 30 years, we have had education and awareness campaigns through advertising to educate the public, yet we still continue to see impaired driving as the number one criminal cause of death in Canada. On average, we're losing the lives of 1,250 to 1,500 people per year in Canada. On average, over 60,000 people are injured in a crime that is 100% preventable.
These figures work out to the deaths of four to six people a day, and 175 people injured each day. The destruction to families is life changing and permanent. Many families never recover from the loss of their child or loved one.
The proposed legislation responds to serious consequences expressed by various law enforcement agencies, experts, and victims organizations, including Families for Justice, who have been urging the government to improve law enforcement's capacity to detect drug- and alcohol-impaired driving.
While this legislation is important for the passive detection device, there is compelling evidence that illegal drug use and impaired driving results in impaired cognitive function, slower reaction times, difficulty concentrating, drowsiness, disoriented feelings, difficulty judging distances and making decisions, problems staying in one lane, greater difficulty maintaining a constant speed, and in having an increased collision risk. Under the current legislation, the Criminal Code does not grant the police the authority to obtain bodily samples from drivers, unless a police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a driver has consumed alcohol.
A passive detection device could detect alcohol in the ambient air, which would allow officers to use a non-invasive procedure to test for the presence of alcohol by simply placing the device near the driver's face when he or she is speaking. This new method would not only empower police officers to better identify impaired drivers, but it would also have a deterrent effect and play a major role in reducing the number of impaired drivers who are choosing to get behind the wheel after drinking, despite the laws and deterrents that are already in place.
Drug-impaired driving is also a growing problem that largely goes unreported because of the lack of roadside measurement devices. Of all impaired driving charges, 97% are for alcohol and only 3% are for drugs. The situation will become more catastrophic if and when marijuana is legalized.
There need to be limits set on intoxication similar to those with alcohol. A 0.08 blood limit in alcohol is well known and is recognized in science-based evidence. This does not exist for marijuana. Alcohol and drugs can affect drivers' safety by impairing vehicle control and judgment. The police need consistent, strong, and fair enforcement measures to ensure that the increased use of alcohol and drugs does not impact road safety. Drivers who get behind the wheel while being impaired put themselves and everyone else at risk.
According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, in 2010, nearly as many drivers died in road crashes using drugs, at 34.2%, as those who had been drinking, at 39.1% .
In Canada, in 2012, there were 614 road fatalities where drivers had drugs present in their system, compared to 476 fatalities where alcohol was present. A change to the Criminal Code would allow the use of approved roadside screening devices to ascertain the presence of alcohol in the body of a person operating a vehicle. Currently, there are devices used in Australia and the European Union countries where police use roadside oral drug screening tests to detect the presence of drugs.
Drug-impaired numbers are under-reported because of the limited tools available for law enforcement to quickly detect the presence of drugs in the body. This leads to drug-impaired drivers often bypassing tests due to the inability of drug recognition experts, time restrictions on the tests, and second-guessing the presence of drugs in a driver, all leading to under-reporting of drug-impaired driving.
Roadside oral screening detection devices offer objective and time-efficient alternatives for the most commonly used illicit drugs.
Senator Claude Carignan has recently brought forward Bill S-230 for the addition of a drug detection device to aid the police in their duties in detecting drug-impaired drivers. This bill amends the Criminal Code to authorize the use of approved screening devices, as well, to detect the presence of drugs in the body of a person who is operating a vehicle or who had care and control of a vehicle. It also authorizes the taking of samples of bodily substances to determine the concentration of drugs in a person's body based on physical coordination tests and the results of analysis conducted using an approved screening device.
Adding a drug recognition device would also allow samples of bodily substances, be it oral fluid, blood, or urine, as required, to be taken to determine the amount of a drug in a driver's system based on the analysis with an approved screening device.
I wanted to mention that recently there were two very high-profile cases in the news where four members from two separate families were killed by impaired drivers.
On September 27, 2015, the Neville-Lake family from Vaughan, Ontario, lost their three children, Daniel, age 9, Harrison, age 5, and Milly, age 2, along with their grandfather Gary Neville. His wife and mother-in-law were seriously injured.
On January 2, 2016, the Van de Vorst family from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, lost their son, Jordan, and his wife Chanda, and their two grandchildren, Kamryn, age 5, and Miguire, age 2.
Both families were wiped out by impaired drivers who were twice over the legal limit to drive.
Sadly, many impaired drivers know there is still a chance they will not get caught when driving impaired and they continue to take a chance, get behind the wheel, and risk their own safety, and the safety of other drivers and pedestrians. The deterrent effect of the passive detection devise, as proposed in Bill C-247, would possibly prevent these types of collisions.
The impaired drivers in each of those collisions received a sentence of 10 years, which sounds like a long time, but that equates to about two and a half years per person's death. Take time off for good behaviour and early parole, and out of that 10-year sentence they will actually serve about two years or less for killing four people in each family. That works out to about six months in jail served per death.
On average, convicted impaired drivers are being given a two- to three-year sentence for causing a death in Canada, but the reality is the actual amount of time being served is a mere five to nine months out of a two- to three-year sentence. These types of sentences let Canadians know that they can drink and they can drive while being impaired, and if they kill someone in Canada they'll only receive a minimal sentence for taking an innocent life.
Admissions to provincial sentenced custody for impaired driving are more likely to be intermittent sentences than admissions for other offences. The most common sentence was the payment of a fine. About one in 10 received a prison sentence with a median of 33 days. That's all. Of all admissions to provincial sentenced custody for impaired driving, about four in 10 were sentences to be served intermittently. An intermittent sentence allows the person sentenced to custody to serve their sentences in separate time periods, usually on weekends. About four in 10, roughly 41% of admissions to provincial sentenced custody for impaired driving in 2010-11 were intermittent sentences, compared to 15% for all other offences.
Correctional Service Canada, which is responsible for inmates sentenced to two or more years of custody, reported just 70 admissions for impaired driving for 2010-11. This represented about 1% of all the admissions to sentenced custody to Correctional Service Canada.
Over the last five years we have seen sentences of anywhere between one day in jail, a $1,500 fine, to seven weekends in jail, to 90 days to be served on weekends only. All of these sentences were given out to people who were convicted of impaired driving causing a death. With criminal sentences like these, they sadly have become case-setting precedents for future court cases. These are absolutely no deterrent.
We believe that if a death is involved, there should be a minimum mandatory sentence of six years for causing a vehicular homicide. Those who lost their loved ones were given a lifetime sentence of being without their children and loved ones. The people who died were given a death sentence. The impaired drivers who caused these deaths are only serving a few months in jail for taking the lives of innocent people and changing the lives of families forever.
Currently in Canada, if you're convicted of causing the death of another person by using a gun or a knife, you will receive a jail sentence of seven to 10 years. Why are people who are killing someone by impaired driving serving sentences of so much less? Many vehicles in the hands of an impaired driver become a lethal weapon. A speeding vehicle in the hands of an impaired driver is like holding a 2,000-pound to 3,000-pound weapon between their hands, and a vehicle driven by an impaired driver does far more damage than a knife or a gun ever would.
These are no accidents. There are no accidents. These are collisions. Accidents happen due to mechanical failure or weather conditions. Impaired driving is a choice made by reckless individuals who make the decision to put others at risk on our roadways. What is required now is the modernization of our existing impaired driving laws, where those who commit these crimes of impaired driving causing collisions which result in injuries or deaths of innocent people will be held accountable for their actions.
Families For Justice have submitted over 117,000 names on a petition to the federal government of Canada. The petition is signed by Canadian citizens who are asking the government to implement tougher new impaired driving laws. In speaking with thousands of Canadians over the last five years, they also want to see longer prison sentences given out, based on the severity of the crime. We hope through tougher impaired driving laws this will be an added deterrent for the public. It will let Canadians know that if they choose to drink and drive and they cause a collision while being impaired, they will be held accountable for their actions and there will be serious consequences.
Bill C-247 also renames the offence of impaired driving causing death as “vehicular homicide as a result of impairment”. This bill calls the crimes what they truly are, vehicular homicides. A conviction should reflect the seriousness and the risks that accompany the decision to get behind the wheel, while preserving judicial discretion for judges.
There have been various transportation-related provisions to the Criminal Code that have been developed over many decades in response to specific incidents, scientific advances, and court decisions particularly relating to impaired driving. This approach has resulted in some of the inconsistencies, such as how offenders are sentenced following the conviction for impaired driving.
While some reforms have strengthened measures to combat impaired driving, they have also added to the complexity of the Criminal Code, which has affected the efficiency of investigations, prosecutions, and sentencing.
The proposed legislation would amend the Criminal Code to resolve inconsistencies and increase certain penalties to reflect the seriousness of the conduct.
Families for Justice supports the passing of Bill C-247. I hope everyone will support this bill. I recognize the need for the committee to assess the practical implications of this change to the law to ensure that the bill achieves its policy goals and ensures clarity in the Criminal Code.
We believe that police officers need to be given added tools to do their job and assist them in being able to keep Canadians safer and impaired drivers off the road. We believe that the initiative, which would increase the safety of our roads through a non-invasive procedure, should move forward.
Bill C-247, an act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada, stands before you. It is an extremely important bill and you have the opportunity to make one of the most important decisions on the future laws of Canada. Bill C-247 will address the scope of the law and ensure that you not only have concrete laws against impaired driving, but also practical and effective ways of implementing those laws.
Today I urge each of you to look at what you can do to make communities in Canada safer. People deserve the right to their life and to get home safely at the end of the day without the worry of being hit by an impaired driver or killed.
In the interest of public safety for all Canadians, I ask that you support Bill C-247 and implement the passive detection device, as statistics show that we need tougher impaired driving laws in Canada.