Mr. Speaker, I know I speak on behalf of my constituents when I stand here today to address the issue of drunk driving.
I would like to begin by commending the work of one of my constituents, Geraldine Dedrick, who is president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the Halifax region. Geraldine Dedrick herself faced the unimaginable tragedy of losing a son due to an accident related to drunk driving. I am honoured to stand here to support her efforts and those of countless others who are working today so that people tomorrow are spared this tragedy.
This is an important issue in the province of Nova Scotia. The current president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is Susan MacAskill from Windsor in the Annapolis Valley of our province. I commend her on her work.
Every single day, people living in the riding of Halifax West face a very real and possibly fatal threat. Every day in my riding there are people concerned about someone they know drinking and driving. It is the same throughout the province of Nova Scotia and throughout the land.
Since the Criminal Code was amended to deal with persons who drink and drive, it has been estimated that 20,400 Canadians have died at the hands of those who choose to drink and drive. At the same time up to 1.5 million Canadians have been injured during the timespan over ten years since these laws were enacted. The death and casualty numbers read like those of war. The government has to tools at hand to reduce this carnage.
I and my colleagues of the New Democratic Party support the review and enactment of legislative measures to enhance deterrents and ensure that we use the tool of legislation to do what we can to put in place laws to reduce these accidents.
We are not talking about people who have sacrificed their lives for our country or for any higher ideal. We are talking about people who have had their lives or their good health ended because someone has chosen to drink too much, thus turning their vehicle into a terrible weapon out of control.
Even during this speech it is likely that a Canadian will loose his or her life due to drunk driving. An average of more than one Canadian every five minutes is injured due to drunk driving. An average of one Canadian is killed every six hours. This is simply obscene.
While clearly the loss of life and limb is paramount, let us not ignore the incredible toll this takes on our health care system and the ripple effect of other costs to the taxpayer. This is not only an issue of death and injury, it is an issue of responsibility in so many ways.
Clearly the responsibility lies at many levels. There is the level of the individual. I have chosen not to drink at all. I know several have made this choice. I know many other responsible social drinkers who would never climb into a vehicle with anywhere near the .08 alcohol level.
Then there are others who are social drinkers who occasionally make the wrong choice about drinking and driving. This wrong choice is estimated to be responsible for a death every single day in this country. Then there are the repeat offenders, many with serious drinking problems who cause much of the carnage.
Then there is the responsibility of the community. More and more communities are banding and working together to change the laws. It is largely due to their effort that the backward social philosophy of one for the road is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving and many other organizations have become very sophisticated and involved and have done much of our homework. This enables us, as legislators, to help address the problems. There are also many small business owners who serve alcohol who are undertaking initiatives in their businesses to curb irresponsible drinking and to reduce the incidents of drinking and driving. I commend their efforts.
It is foolish to think that the entire problem can be legislated away. It is no more than criminal not to make every change we can as Parliamentarians to address the loss of life and health through drunk driving accidents.
The government should have no fear of addressing this issue if it is concerned about the polls. Nine out of every ten Canadians believe this is a problem for the government to address. Almost three of every four Canadians support lowering the blood alcohol concentration level from .08 to .05. We could perhaps go lower, as has been suggested by the hon. member opposite.
We would not be breaking any new ground. Many countries are ahead of us. Australia, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and France all have lowered their legal levels to .05. Some provincial governments have taken the lead on this issue. Newfoundland has implemented a 24 hour license suspension with a $100 license reinstatement charge if a person's level is over .05.
I know there is concern among my constituents of Halifax West that there should be the capacity, under provincial legislation in Nova Scotia, to confiscate cars involved in these offences.
Let us explore in committee the possibility of automatically requesting from drivers breath and/or blood samples in a crash resulting in serious injury or death. Let us review the current two hour presumption limit to obtain a breath or blood sample. Let us review every aspect within our federal jurisdiction to do our part to reduce impaired driving.
Let us not be afraid to examine the criminal code to expand the reasonable or probable grounds for which law enforcement officers can investigate crash scenes that involve death or serious injury.
I know one of the big concerns in my riding of Halifax West is the extent to which we are able to determine the role alcohol plays in accidents causing death. Let us look at ways to ensure that we know if alcohol has played part in someone's death or injury due to a traffic accident.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving's statement of beliefs include the phrase: “While an individuals decision to consume alcohol is a private matter, driving after consuming alcohol or other drugs is a public matter”.
I would now like to comment briefly on the impact that has been mentioned with respect to friends and families, the impact that one feels over the loss of a loved one.
We need not lose someone through drunk driving to realize the pain and suffering people go through when they lose a loved one. I lost a nephew, age 8, through a serious car accident. There was no alcohol involved but I still remember the pain of that accident. This young fellow knew I was doing karate and he asked me to break a board for him one day. He came up with all these big boards, 2x4s, and wanted me to break them. At that time I said I would do that for him a little later on. That later on never came because his life was cut short by a serious car accident. Add to that the pain and suffering one feels when the car accident is unnecessary because someone has chosen to drink and drive.
I would say in response to the comments by hon. member who introduced the bill that the NDP is not serious about this issue, we are serious about this issue. We do take these matters seriously. We do not find them funny. We know the importance of having this matter adequately dealt with. It is for this reason that we rise in support of his bill. Let us take action now to resolve this issue.