Mr. Chair, honourable members, we welcome the opportunity to address this panel and to comment on the amendments to the Criminal Code, particularly as they relate to drug-impaired driving. Drug Free Kids Canada is a non-profit organization devoted to educating parents about drugs, raising public awareness issues surrounding drug use, and facilitating open conversations between parent and teen, in order to ensure that all young people will be able to live their lives free of substance abuse.
Since we are not legal or policy experts, nor do we have experience in law enforcement, we have chosen to focus our comments on the critical need to change how society in general and young people in particular perceive the risks involved with high driving, that is, cannabis-impaired driving. Although drug-impaired driving can involve more drugs than cannabis, our comments today mainly relate to Bill C-45, the proposed legalization of cannabis.
DFK’s position on drug-impaired driving is simple. We need to make the laws and ensure that our enforcement is as strict as possible within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A strong deterrent to driving while impaired by drugs must be in place, particularly when we’re about to legalize this psychotropic substance.
We have learned many lessons over the years related to alcohol, lessons that we need to consider with cannabis.
The first lesson was that wide distribution and intense marketing and promotion of alcohol created a normalization of this substance. We need to strictly control the sale of cannabis and definitely forbid any form of marketing or promotion, especially to minors.
Second, no matter what laws are in place, if we don’t educate and sensitize the public to the risks inherent with drug-impaired driving, we will continue to see carnage on our roads. Education at an early age needs to begin as soon as possible, before we legalize. People who are currently driving while impaired tend to be less impacted by public education messages. What influences their behaviour is when others, particularly their children, intervene.
There’s a great example of that from 50 years ago, when seat belts were first introduced. Early public safety messages on buckling up for safety were having poor results. Only when the focus was put on keeping kids safe by buckling them up did we see a change in societal behaviour. A positive change happened as a consequence of the child-centred focus of the new messaging. It’s when the kids asked the parents, “Why aren’t you buckling up, Dad or Mom?” that society began to see a shift in attitude and, ultimately, driving behaviour.
Last, the great and consistent work that has been done over the past 30 years by organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Drinking and Driving Alberta have contributed significantly to making drinking and driving socially unacceptable. We need to do the same with drugs now, especially cannabis. Impaired is impaired. The message has to be clear most importantly to our youth.
Our national tracking studies have consistently shown that teens don’t see driving under the influence of pot as being as risky as alcohol. This is particularly worrisome since these are young, inexperienced drivers who believe that smoking a joint and grabbing the car keys is okay.
Studies show that 16-year-olds to 34-year-olds represent only 32% of the Canadian population, but 61% of the cannabis attributable fatalities. This group also disproportionately represents 59% of the cannabis attributable injuries, and 68% of the people involved in cannabis attributable property damage-only collisions. This means that we have serious work to do with today’s young drivers and the future generation of drivers.
Another aspect parents need to be concerned about is that kids are getting into the car with a driver who is high. In a recent Ontario study, almost a quarter, 23%, of grade 12 students, admitted to having been a passenger driven by someone who had consumed drugs.
We are here to tell you that public education messaging works. In the past six years of doing national multimedia campaigns, we have seen that more parents are talking to their kids more often about drugs. We are seeing changes not only in attitudes but also in the behaviour of teens.
Drug Free Kids Canada has been creating impaired driving prevention education campaigns on our own for the past four years, but much more work will be required.
I would like to share with you our latest high driving campaign. It’s an innovative campaign using new technology to reach parents and kids. The Call That Comes After has been internationally recognized in Cannes and New York, as well as in Canada. More importantly, it has been viewed or downloaded over 40,000 times by parents and kids from coast to coast. The Call That Comes After was designed to help parents open up the conversation with their kids by using the most common communication tool between parents and kids, the mobile phone.
This campaign ran from January to June and will be repeated again next year for 17 weeks. If we don’t take preventative steps right now to educate the public, by July of next year we could be facing an increase in drug impairment on our roads, creating a significant hazard for the public. We must remind the government of its pledge to allocate a portion of the revenues towards prevention and education. To ensure that our youth and the public in general are protected, we need to provide effective education and prevention awareness strategies well before legislation takes effect.
Consistent messaging has worked for safety belts, anti-smoking, and drinking and driving. We can and must do the same for driving while high. This is the only way to make sure that young people and their parents understand that cannabis does not belong behind the wheel under any circumstance. It’s a substance that, like alcohol, causes serious impairment to driving capabilities even though it will soon become legal. Drug-impaired driving is but one aspect to consider when looking at legalizing cannabis, but it is a very critical one.
I would like to thank this committee for allowing us to present our point of view.