Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting Arrive Alive Drive Sober to provide our comments on Bill C-46. My name is Michael Stewart, and I am the program director with Arrive Alive. I am joined here today by the president of our board of directors, Ms. Anne Leonard.
For almost 30 years, our charity has provided leadership and programs to eliminate impaired driving, such as choose your ride and operation lookout. We enable people and communities to share resources and information intended to prevent injuries and save lives on our roads. We are recognized as a leader in the fight against impaired driving. In a recent government survey, our slogan and messaging was recognized by four out of five Ontarians, making it the most recognized campaign.
We have 85 members and stakeholders comprised of dedicated professionals and volunteers. We frequently partner with community groups, police services, public health units, schools, businesses, and government entities. Each year, we distribute for free over $100,000 in printed materials across Canada and receive over $12 million in donated television and radio airtime. In March of this year, one of our countermeasure campaigns, our wrecked car coasters received national and international media coverage, with interviews from coast to coast and as far away as Australia. Since the inception of our organization, impaired driving fatalities in Ontario have declined by almost 75%, demonstrating that comprehensive legislation and enforcement requires a third partner—effective public awareness—to save lives on our roads.
Arrive Alive commends the work of the federal government and its commitment to creating new and stronger laws to combat impaired driving. Introducing three new offences for drivers having specified levels of drugs in their system, making changes to the “over 80” offence, as well as increased penalties are improvements that will help us all arrive alive.
Drug-impaired driving has been included in our messaging for over a decade, but it has recently become of greater concern for Canadians due to the pending legalization of cannabis. In a recent nationwide survey conducted by State Farm, 80% of respondent’s voiced concern about people driving under the influence of marijuana, and 83% felt that there is not enough information about the risks that come with driving while high.
Bill C-46 is an important step forward, but it's critical that it be accompanied by a comprehensive plan of education and public awareness. We have heard a common misconception from both youth and adults that driving while high on cannabis is not only safe, but makes them better drivers. This dangerous myth underscores the critical need to ensure that all drivers know that driving while impaired by drugs is just as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction reports that in 2011, 21% of high school students who were surveyed in Canada said that they had driven at least once within an hour of using drugs, and 50% had been a passenger in a vehicle where the driver had used drugs. This data, in combination with these dangerous myths, creates a road safety hazard in and of itself that must be addressed not only by enforcement but by fulsome education.
According to Statistics Canada, police reported that drug impaired driving incidents have doubled since 2009. As well, our colleagues in states where cannabis has been legalized, such as Colorado and Washington state, have seen marked increases in drug-impaired driving. We have no reason to believe that this experience will not be replicated in Canada, but education and awareness are key to reducing the numbers of people who combine drug use and driving. We have seen sustained and consistent reductions in alcohol-impaired driving incidents. It clearly appears that the population of drivers who combine drugs and driving is distinct or different from the population that is well aware of the dangers of drinking in combination with driving.
Health Canada has stated that the government is committed to investing in a robust education campaign to inform youth of the risks and harms of cannabis use. We urge the members of this committee to accelerate the government’s pace and economic support when it comes to public awareness efforts. It is crucial to the safety of Canadians to be educated not only about the dangers of driving in combination with drugs, but also about the new consequences and blood drug concentration levels set out in Bill C-46. An absence of awareness and education will limit the impact and deterrent effect these increased penalties are intended to have. Given the brief time between now and July 1st, 2018, we encourage you to explore strategic opportunities for partnership on education campaigns.
Arrive Alive has been at the forefront in raising awareness about the dangers of driving while impaired by drugs. Our drug-impaired driving efforts to date include The Sober Truth About Driving High, a video PSA filmed in partnership with the CACP and the RCMP in 2012; our award-winning iDRIVE educational video that was shared, in partnership with Transport Canada, with every high school in Canada in 2011; a radio PSA entitled Potchecks in 2015; and our ongoing Eggs on Weed campaign that began in 2014.
We are going to continue to do our part, but we will need help, especially with the legalization of cannabis and Bill C-46.
Training officers and ensuring that they have the necessary tools in place to detect and remove impaired drivers from the road has been a key concern of our membership for many years. We know that training these officers to detect impairment and supplying them with devices takes time and money. While the federal government has announced $161 million to be divided up amongst the provinces, our police partners have warned us that there is neither enough time nor funding to have sufficient officers and approved screening devices ready for legalization. We encourage the government to continue to work with police services to determine what amount is needed to fulfill their training and research requirements. As the bill provides necessary tools to help law enforcement in this fight, it is paramount to ensure that they can be fully utilized across Canada.
While Bill C-46 is an important step in the right direction, it is unfortunate that the bill itself perpetuates a myth or misunderstanding amongst the public that accidents are the result of drug- or alcohol-impaired driving. Referring to drug- or alcohol-impaired driving that causes bodily harm or death as an “accident” implies that the criminal conduct and consequence happened for no apparent reason when, in reality, it was a person’s decision to drive impaired. We ask that the committee consider changing the terminology to “collision” to recognize this fact.
In conclusion, Arrive Alive Drive Sober supports the government’s efforts to create stronger legislation. It is with the help of tough legislation that we have continued to see alcohol-impaired driving incidents and fatalities decrease in Canada. However, effective public education and awareness was also instrumental in reducing those numbers. To combat drug-impaired driving like we have with alcohol, the government must provide ample funding and resources. Additionally, with the legalization of cannabis fast approaching, the government must look to strategic partnerships to create public awareness initiatives, both to educate Canadians about driving high, as well as to educate them on the new consequences outlined in Bill C-46. We would be happy to bring forward our track record in this area to assist you in this endeavour.
Thank you for your time and for the invitation to appear.