Thank you, Mr. Chair, and certainly thank you to all of the members of this committee. I am always pleased to come back before all of you. I appreciate the chair saying that this is one of the most important bills to be before the committee, and I very much look forward to hearing feedback.
I'm pleased to be here to speak to Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other acts. The bill would strengthen the existing criminal law with respect to drug-impaired driving and would result in a simplified, modernized, and coherent legislative framework addressing all transportation offences, including impaired driving.
The ultimate goal of this bill is to reduce deaths and injuries caused by impaired drivers. Drinking and driving continues to cause untold devastation on our roads and highways, despite years of public education on the dangers of such conduct. No one is immune to its tragic impact. This was evident during the second reading debate, when many members of Parliament related their personal stories of being impacted by an impaired driver. Some have lost family members of their own, and others have described the impact impaired driving has had on some of their constituents and communities.
I would like to point out that since the introduction of this bill, questions around its constitutionality have been raised, particularly with respect to whether some of the key proposals will withstand charter scrutiny. I would like to assure the committee that I take my role under section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act very seriously. I am confident that the proposed reforms are appropriately tailored to the important objectives we are pursuing and will survive any constitutional challenge that may be brought.
It has been my practice, as Minister of Justice, to table a charter statement. I did so with respect to Bill C-46, and it outlines some of the key considerations that informed my review of the bill to ensure its consistency with the charter. The statement identifies how the bill potentially engages charter-protected rights and freedoms and also identifies the rationale for justifying any limits that the bill may impose. My hope is that this information will be of assistance to all members as you study and continue to debate this important bill.
I would like to now spend a few moments outlining some of the key proposals in the bill. As I mentioned, the bill proposes to strengthen the existing criminal law approach to drug-impaired driving. It would do this by enacting three new driving offences of being over a legal drug limit. The legal limits are not contained in the bill but would be set by regulation. This approach would permit cabinet to add drugs or amend legal limits quickly and efficiently in response to the evolving science. Although legal limits would be established for several impairing drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, I propose only to outline the levels relating to THC, the primary impairing component of cannabis.
The bill establishes a low-level fine-only drug offence for THC. This represents a precautionary approach. This offence would prohibit having between two and five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood within two hours of driving. This offence would be punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and a discretionary driving prohibition of up to one year. Additionally, Bill C-46 proposes a hybrid offence for a higher level of THC, corresponding with higher risks from impairment. This offence would prohibit having five nanograms or more of THC per millilitre of blood within two hours of driving. Finally, the second proposed hybrid combination offence would prohibit low levels of THC in combination with low levels of alcohol, recognizing that these two substances interact to significantly increase overall impairment.
Both of the hybrid drug offences would have escalating penalties that mirror the existing impaired driving penalties: a $1,000 fine for the first offence, 30 days' imprisonment for a second offence, 120 days' imprisonment for a third or subsequent offence, and mandatory prohibition orders.
The bill also proposes to authorize the police to use roadside drug screeners to more effectively identify drivers who have been using drugs. These tools would be in addition to the existing roadside tests, known as standard field sobriety tests. The ability to demand these tests has been in force since 2008. They are used by police to develop reasonable grounds to believe that a driver is impaired and proceed to further investigate.
I am very pleased that last week Minister Goodale announced that the drug screening device pilot project conducted between December 18, 2016, and March 6, 2017, by police officers in seven jurisdictions across Canada was successful, and received positive reviews from police. Officers reported that the devices were easy to use at the roadside and that they were able to successfully use them in various weather, temperature, and lighting conditions. Giving law enforcement this tool to detect and deter drug-impaired driving will better protect communities.
Bill C-46 also proposes significant reforms in the area of alcohol-impaired driving and other transportation-related provisions. It proposes to completely repeal these Criminal Code provisions and replace them with a simplified, modernized, and coherent legislative framework. One of the key proposals is to authorize mandatory alcohol screening. This proposal would allow a police officer, in the lawful execution of their duty, to demand a preliminary breath sample from any driver who is operating a motor vehicle. This provision was debated vigorously at second reading. I want to spend a moment explaining in some detail the reason this is proposed within the bill.
Mandatory alcohol screening is common in other jurisdictions, including in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, and much of Europe. It has been proven to significantly reduce traffic-related fatalities. In fact, in Ireland it was credited with reducing the number of deaths on Irish roads by approximately 40% in the first four years after it was enacted. The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the power of police officers to stop vehicles at any time to ensure that drivers are complying with the rules of the road. They can do this to ensure that drivers are licensed and insured and the vehicle is mechanically fit, and to check for sobriety. The proposal in this bill would require a driver who is already subject to a lawful traffic stop to provide a breath sample, similar to the way they are now required to produce their licence and registration. It is simply information about whether a driver is complying with one of the conditions imposed in the highly regulated context of driving.
Some have expressed concern relating to the perceived risk that this provision could lead to an increase in racial profiling. While the issue of racial profiling is a serious concern to our government, mandatory alcohol screening will not have an impact on this practice. Mandatory alcohol screening would not alter the responsibility that law enforcement has towards training and oversight to ensure fair, equal, and appropriate application of the law. Finally, mandatory alcohol screening was unanimously recommended in 2009 by the members of this very committee following a comprehensive study of the issue of impaired driving. I thank that committee for their hard work on this important issue, and I am pleased to have been able to include that recommendation in this bill.
As Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, I feel it is my obligation to take any and all reasonable measures within my authority to reduce the incidence of impaired driving, with the ultimate goal of reducing road accidents. I am confident that the mandatory alcohol screening will be effective at reducing deaths and injuries on our roads and highways. I'm also confident that mandatory alcohol screening is constitutional. Constitutional compliance is about striking the appropriate balance. Mandatory alcohol screening is minimally intrusive, but the benefits in lives saved will be immeasurable. Simply put, mandatory alcohol screening will change the mindset of drivers, who will no longer be able to convince themselves that they can evade police detection of their alcohol consumption if stopped.
Mr. Chair, the bill contains many other proposals that I do not have time to go into in great detail, but just for summary's sake, some of these elements include: removing or limiting defences which encourage risk-taking behaviour, including the bolus or drinking-and-dashing defence; clarifying that the crown is only required to disclose scientifically relevant information; simplifying the proof of blood alcohol concentration; and, increasing some minimum fines and some maximum penalties.
I would like to draw the committee's attention to the legislative backgrounder on Bill C-45 that I tabled on May 11, which contains more detail regarding all of these proposed changes. It is my hope that this document will help guide your study by explaining in more detail the intent of the proposed changes.
In conclusion, the ultimate goal of Bill C-46 is to save lives, reduce injuries, and ensure the safety of Canadians on our roads and highways. If passed, this bill would give Canada one of the toughest impaired driving regimes in the world. Protecting the public is a responsibility that I take seriously and that I know this committee takes seriously, and I'm very proud of the proposals set out in Bill C-46.
Than you for your attention. I look forward to comments and questions, Mr. Chair.