Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating MADD on the excellent work they are doing to draw the Canadian public's attention to the problem of drunk driving.
I want to repeat what the Minister of Justice said recently when she met with representatives from MADD. She said that she was going to raise the issue in the near future, in December, at her meeting in Montreal with all provincial justice ministers.
Parliament has the constitutional legislative authority to create criminal laws. Despite the opposition member's assertion that this government has not shown a leadership role by making changes to the Criminal Code, most recently, in the spring of this year the last Parliament passed amendments to certain drinking and driving provisions of the Criminal Code which have been introduced by this government.
On several occasions we made amendments, changes which clarified that the driving prohibition penalty starts to run only upon an offender's release from imprisonment. In my opinion that is an important change.
Parliament has also clarified that the defence can only introduce evidence of the accused's actual blood alcohol concentration that is different from his or her breath test where the evidence shows a BAC reading at or below 80.
Parliament also, despite the member's assertion, extended the period for a police officer to apply for a warrant to obtain blood in certain accident situations from two hours to four hours. Get the facts right.
As we know, each province has the constitutional legislative authority for such matters as highway traffic, driver licensing and motor vehicle registration within the province. The provinces have legislated in these areas with regard to drinking and driving. Also in the provinces, the enforcement and prosecution of Criminal Code offences has been assigned to the attorney general of each province.
Therefore in my view there are important intergovernmental consultations that should take place in order to come to a full understanding of the drinking and driving problem. There are legislative ways to further the progress that has been made to date.
The Minister of Justice, as I said earlier, will be meeting her colleagues and will be bringing up her suggestions for amendments to the Criminal Code.
The statistics on drinking and driving in relation to driver fatalities and criminal charges suggest that there have been important changes since the early 1980s regarding drinking and driving which, incidentally, has been almost overwhelmingly a male dominated crime apparently.
The recently released results of a public opinion survey commissioned by the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving which occurred here in Ottawa this week confirmed that progress has been made in changing public attitudes about drinking and driving behaviour.
However, notwithstanding the progress on this problem, as many members of this House are well aware, the most tragic consequences of drinking and driving remain a virulent blight on Canadian society. I agree with assertions of the hon. member about this.
The Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada is responsible for recording data for Transport Canada on driver deaths as a result of traffic accidents. The data come from information provided by the police and coroners and, since 1987, the data base contains data provided by all provinces and territories.
The good news is that, since 1987, the percentage of drivers with blood alcohol levels exceeding 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood is steadily declining. In 1987, drivers with blood alcohol levels over 80 represented 43% of driver deaths as a result of traffic accidents. In 1995, this figure was 35%. But this is not really good news, and I want to be clear about this. We do not want to see the level stay at 80.
The tragedy of accidents resulting in the death of drivers with blood alcohol levels over 80 does not end there. Some of these drivers are also responsible for the death of their passengers or other people not even in the car with them. Some drivers with blood alcohol levels over 80 survive the accident, but their passengers or other people not in the car are killed. It is tragic.
When injuries are taken into account, the human suffering over the years reaches staggering proportions, and intelligent people naturally feel they have to do something.
But the important question is this: What should we do? The causes are complex and the solutions to this serious social problem are not simple. Drunk drivers come from all walks of life, so we cannot simply adopt stiffer penalties and expect that just by doing that people will stop drinking and driving.
We have to adopt a whole package of measures, a holistic approach. For example, fines or prison terms are enough to prevent most of us from drinking and driving, but they seem to have less effect on certain persons with an alcohol problem, even if the penalties are heavier. So we feel that forcing people to follow a treatment and other measures might be more effective.
The Traffic Injury Research Foundation has recently released a brochure discussing the drinking and driving problem. It notes that for a drinking driver the risk of accident increases exponentially with an increase in the BAC level. I think we will all agree on that.
Not surprisingly, drivers with a very high BAC level are disproportionately responsible for fatal road crashes where alcohol is involved.
TIRF lists a number of measures that could be taken to further reduce road crash fatalities. Most of these measures relate to provincial governments. TIRF notes that many provinces have begun to implement some of the measures TIRF endorses.
One idea is to have graduated penalties that are linked to blood alcohol blood concentrations. TIRF notes that some sentencing judges already appear to do this when they render sentences in these cases.
Adding several other elements might help to better understand the problem of drunk driving. According to the Department of Justice, the Department of Transport is preparing a report on a survey done by police officers in co-operation with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. It should help us identify initiatives to assist police officers investigating crimes related to drunk driving.
In August 1997, the Department of Transport commissioned another study from the Addictions Research Foundation; it will survey the literature on the effects of various blood-alcohol levels on the ability to drive and deal with the issue of using lower blood-alcohol levels in imposing administrative penalties, including suspension of the driver's licence, or in the case of criminal penalties in certain countries. This information will likely be very useful when the legislative options will be reviewed with the provinces.
It is important to note that the Department of Transport has been involved for several years with the provinces and other partners in non-criminal type initiatives implemented under the strategy to reduce impaired driving. There is no question that measures outside criminal law have a major impact on the problem. In fact, it is through the combined efforts of governments, public and private sector institutions, families and individuals that we have been able to make progress in this area. It is most likely that initiatives based on criminal law cannot in themselves ensure further progress.
I take offence to the opposition member's allegation that the members of this side of the House have not had the courage to recognize this great Canadian tragedy or that the government has done nothing, as was stated. We have and will take action. The minister has already reaffirmed the government's commitment to the representatives of MADD she met with last week. I am sure all members of the House will continue to encourage the minister and the government to take action.
I will repeat what I said earlier. We have a commitment to take action.