Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Bill C-46. I believe this is the sixth or seventh time I have appeared before the justice committee in regard to impaired driving issues.
As indicated, I'm a professor of law at Western University and I've been researching and writing in the field for about 35 years. I've worked with MADD Canada, its predecessor organizations, and other groups. However, I'm here today on behalf of myself, Dean Erika Chamberlain of the faculty of law at Western University, and Dr. Roy Purssell, professor of emergency medicine, University of British Columbia and medical lead of the British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre.
Among other things, Bill C-46 will simplify and clarify the federal impaired driving law, create new drug-impaired driving offences, authorize roadside oral fluid testing, and address many evidentiary procedural and technical concerns with the current law. We support these measures because they will improve the federal impaired driving legislation. However, in terms of traffic safety, by far the most important measure is the mandatory alcohol screening provision. Consequently, I will limit my comments to this issue.
This measure would authorize the police to demand a roadside breath test from any driver they have lawfully stopped. The test is conducted while the driver remains seated in the car, and the average stop takes approximately two minutes. The results of the screening test are not admissible in court, but rather are used exclusively as a screening mechanism to determine if there are grounds for further testing. The Criminal Lawyers' Association and others have claimed that mandatory alcohol screening is not necessary, and that Canada's impaired driving laws are working well. It's difficult to see how anyone can credibly make that claim given that impairment-related crashes kill about 1,000 Canadians a year, injure almost another 60,000 more, a disproportionate percentage of whom are teenagers and young adults. Those between the ages of 16 and 25 represent 13% of the population but 31% of alcohol-related crash deaths.
Our current law has left Canada with one of the worst impaired driving records among comparable countries. Consistent with earlier studies, the United States Centers for Disease Control reported that Canada had the highest percentage of alcohol-related crash deaths among 20 high-income countries in 2013. Although Canadians drink considerably less than their counterparts, they're much more likely to die in an alcohol-related crash. For example, Canada’s per capita rate of alcohol-related crash deaths is almost five times that of Germany, even though Canadians consume 33% less alcohol. They drink more, we die more.
The laws in these other countries do a far better job than the laws in Canada of separating drinking from driving. Not coincidentally, 17 of those 19 countries have comprehensive mandatory alcohol screening programs. In fact, according to a World Health Organization traffic study, 121 out of 180 countries have some form of mandatary alcohol screening. Canada's laws are not only out of step with comparable democracies in developed countries, they're out of step with the rest of the world.
Research over the last 45 years in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Australia, the EU, Czech Republic, Switzerland, and numerous other countries, have shown that mandatory alcohol screening generates substantial and lasting reductions in impaired driving crashes, deaths, and injuries. For example, a 2004 study concluded that New Zealand's fully implemented mandatory alcohol screening program resulted in a 54% decrease in serious and fatal night-time crashes and saved society more than $1 billion in 1997. Ireland achieved similar reductions in crash deaths and injuries within a decade of enacting its mandatory alcohol screening program in 2006. Rather than overburdening the courts, as has been suggested by some people, the introduction of mandatory alcohol screening in Ireland was the major factor in impaired driving charges dropping from 18,500 in 2006 to 6,000 in 2015.
While the dramatic traffic safety benefits of MAS, mandatory alcohol screening, were first established by studies in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, this body of research is wholly consistent with recent research from New Zealand in 2004, the Netherlands in 2005, Switzerland in 2006, even the United States in 2006, Denmark in 2007, Estonia in 2007, Czech Republic in 2010, the European Union in 2010 and 2003, Hong Kong in 2013, Ireland in 2015, and Australia in each of the last four years. These studies are directly relevant and can hardly be considered dated. Moreover, many of the studies I've referred to took into account potentially confounding factors.
The assertion that there is no direct evidence that mandatory alcohol screening is better than selective breath testing, the system we currently have, is simply false. The sharp decreases in fatal crashes that occurred in Queensland, Western Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland occurred after those jurisdictions moved from selective breath testing to mandatory alcohol screening, exactly what would occur in Canada if the mandatory alcohol screening provisions in Bill C-46 were enacted.
Critics have claimed that mandatory alcohol screening would lead to targeting of certain groups. In fact, the opposite is true. Canadian police currently have the power to stop vehicles—both under common law and under provincial statute in most provinces—to question the drivers about their driving, their sobriety, their licence, and their insurance. Somewhere between four million and six million Canadians are stopped each and every year at sobriety checkpoints and during routine police patrol activities. Currently, the processing of these drivers is based on the officer's subjective assessment, using his or her own unaided senses. Mandatory alcohol screening would change only one aspect of the existing law, namely, the basis for demanding a roadside breath test. In contrast to the current system, under mandatory alcohol screening, all drivers passing the checkpoint are stopped, and all drivers are tested using an objective screening test rather than the officer's subjective judgment. Mandatory alcohol screening limits subjectivity in assessing drivers.
MAS, mandatory alcohol screening, will be challenged under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but we have to put mandatory alcohol screening in the context of other accepted screening procedures that occur on a daily basis. Millions of Canadians are routinely subject to mandatory screening at Canadian airports—131 million, apparently, the last data indicates—at our borders, in courts, and in many other government buildings. The Canadian courts have never held that these mandatory screening procedures violate the charter. To put it bluntly, far more Canadians are killed on our roads in alcohol-related crashes than in attacks at our airports, borders, and courts. Mandatory alcohol screening is less intrusive, inconvenient, and stigmatizing than are many of these other screening procedures. It operates in exactly the same way and serves the same protective purpose. Given that the courts have upheld the constitutionality of airport, border, and courthouse screening, there is no principled basis for reaching the opposite conclusion in terms of RBT. I am pleased to leave further discussion of the charter to my colleague Dr. Peter Hogg, Canada's pre-eminent constitutional law scholar, who will be appearing in the next session.
Decades of experience in dozens of countries indicates that implementing a comprehensive mandatory alcohol screening program would save hundreds of lives, prevent tens of thousands of injuries, and reduce the social costs of impaired driving by billions of dollars a year. Rather than overburdening the courts, mandatory alcohol screening has been shown to reduce impaired driving charges and prosecutions. Frankly, it's about time that Canada's impaired driving law focused on protecting the public rather than immunizing impaired drivers from criminal responsibilities for the needless deaths and injuries that they cause on our roads.
The major problem has never been a lack of research, but rather a lack of political will. Parliament should follow the evidence, enact the MAS provisions in Bill C-46, and finally bring Canada's federal impaired driving law into line with the laws in the rest of the world.
I would be happy to provide the committee and my colleagues with a copy of our published and unpublished studies that document the position that we've taken here today.